Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pat Metheny - 3 part video lesson

These are simply great. A 3 part video of a private lesson with Pat Metheny. This is the stuff the internet is invaluable for! Pat's comments about "time" are just so accurate. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The lost Art of Prog - Steven Wilson

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Last night I went out to see a Steven Wilson at a local concert venue. He did not disappoint. I have long been a fan of his band Porcupine Tree and him in general.

Being an old 'prog-dog' myself I have, with some regularity, missed the heady days of Prog Rock. When bands like Yes, Genesis, Rush, King Crimson, Jethro Tull and others were making waves with epic 7-20 minute songs.

For those of you who don't really understand the term, 'prog' is a short form for Progressive Rock. A style of music that features many twists and turns. Volume dynamics, time signature changes - often in rapid succession, soft musical interludes, long 20 minute pieces etc. It shares as much in common with a symphony as it does a blues rock.

Back to Steven Wilson's show; The show could be described as nothing short of the word 'Art'. It was SUCH a breath of fresh air and made me remember all the things that have been severely lacking in music these days.. More than just in music in society these days - Patience.

In this A.D.D. society we live in these days, it is not often we hear a performer play something a single deep bass note on a piano - and let it hang there for over 10 seconds. Leaving the audience to bathe in the pure depth of its sound.... I mean really, how cool is the sound of something like that? Especially at concert volume! You maybe haven't thought about it for a while - I haven't - but the raw sound of an instrument is an incredible thing. The distance your mind can travel as you listen to its majesty - if allowed - is truly a gift. One in this fast paced society we seldom take advantage of.

The show, which featured incredible musicianship, was in and of itself a canvas. Full of imagery and symbolism, presented with such passion. Steven is a true master of the form - and I don't throw that term around lightly.  I often wonder what Peter Gabriel and Genesis would sound like if they came out today... I suspect it would be similar to what I heard last night.

In truth, I am not sure how many people in this world would actually 'get it', what he was trying to do. Some people seem to not give art any thought whatsoever.... They will walk right past a beautiful painting and not even bother to turn their head..... I have a hard time relating.

To some, I am sure last night's show could have been odd... perhaps even uncomfortable at times. It required the audience to be patient and let him set the mood and deliver his visions... It also required an open mind. Open to seeing something presented in a way it seldom is anymore. To be clear: this wasn't your typical concert presentation.... and for me it was SUCH a breath of fresh air.

With a sold out building and a roaring ovation, I was thrilled to see I am not alone. Music is meant to have rests in it. Silence make sound more vivid by its contrast. Miles Davis knew this, as did Peter Gabriel, the classical masters and a select others. Well, you can add Steven Wilson's name to that list as far as I am concerned. He is a rare beast these days... and I love the guy for it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Players Mind - potholes on the road to mastery

I thought that from time to time, it may be helpful to share what goes through my mind while on the road to learning guitar. We all have these feelings and no matter your level, they remain shockingly similar. By airing out some of these thoughts and epiphanies, it may help provide you all with some insights. I sure as heck would have liked to know that even advanced players have the same frustrations as I! So I will try to fairly regularly do a series of "A Players Mind..." type posts. Here is the first on mastery.

I used to think mastery was some sort of born-in thing.... I spent some time analyzing the lifestyle and habits of a couple players I personally know, who are world-class. What I discovered was a very distinct similarity. It wasn't WHAT they learned, it was HOW they learned.

Firstly, they played ALL THE TIME. Well so did I...or did I? As I thought about it, I don't remember these guys at ONE SINGLE party during high school. They were cool guys who must have known about all the cool happenings, yet they weren't there?? Hmmm.

Secondly, when they practiced, they played MUSIC all the time... lifting other players' songs by the hundreds. All ears, no TAB. While I was running scales, and doing exercises that I believed -- scratch that -- that I was TOLD would move me towards mastery, THEY were playing pretty much only music. TONS OF IT. Upon reflection, is it really a surprise that when they play, they just seem more "musical" than me?

My biggest personal obstacle these days is that I fight with periods of "mindless" playing. On recording playback, I can actually HEAR me 'thinking'. When it happens, my playing falls out of the pocket rhythmically and the musical content goes to shiz. Well, DUH!!! I spent all that time mindlessly running scales.

The best part: I TAUGHT myself to play like that!

Why am I surprised??? You always hear people saying "develop your muscle memory" and all that. That's what I thought I was doing! What a pile of dung. What I was ACTUALLY doing was teaching myself to play in a disengaged state. Brutal.

I stopped all that over a year ago and my playing and phrasing has changed a LOT - to the positive. No more mindless playing - EVER. Even if I pick up the guitar for two seconds, I set up a tempo in my head first and I set up some kind of musical phrase. It has been a hard habit to break, but it is breaking slowly.

I am on the path to rectifying that now, but there was a LOT of wasted time. It is EASY to get distracted during the process. You spend so long staring at the one tree, that you fail to see the forest. Music is that forest.

Who cares about you!? Where does that leave us?
Yeah, yeah. I am getting to it!

"Those guys" (masters) were:
  • Willing to sacrifice everything: their time, memories, relationships - EVERYTHING in the name of music
  • They were playing music all the time, minimal exercises. When they were doing exercise, they made music out of them
  • When they weren't playing, they were discussing, listening to, seeking out music. Hanging with MANY other musicians and generally 'geeking out' on it
So it all boils down to dedication and singular focus. Of course I can't play like they do. I didn't give to it what they did! 

I don't feel much better...
Well you should! I'm sure you are thinking, "Man, I'm not willing to give up everything for guitar", it should be empowering. It means it IS there for you if you want it badly enough. Personally, I would rather think this than some cop-out such as, "I guess I wasn't born with it". You can master this thing, but you gotta' give into all of it. You will get precisely what you put into it. NO MORE, NO LESS. Don't whine about not having some "God Given Talent". You're basically stating that the possibilities are impossible. The good news: I've removed this excuse we have all hidden behind.

Sounds nice but I already put everything into it and I am not a master...
Do you deem yourself at a higher level than other guitarists? This could be your folly. In my travels I have met more than a few musicians. Many of them buy into their own press. Many of them have been the best in every circle they travel in. Many of them have studied far more than me. Most of these cats have written books on playing, taught hundreds of people... maybe at a college level of loftier perches. Perhaps this is you, yet you haven't developed into the 'master' you want to be.

During this self-validating process, a massive ego has built up; an ego which is unwilling to validate another's perspectives or truly hear themselves as they play.  Anyone of a lower level is unworthy to comment or offer anything of value. Oh, and "I CERTAINLY wouldn't play with THAT player - they suck"

If this or the paragraph's title resonated with how you felt as you read this article, perhaps this is you. This is pointless because people like this CAN'T see themselves this way. It's a protection device.

Listen up Yoda, There is SOMETHING that is holding you back. So drop all the attitude, get a little humble for a second and do some soul searching. Because there is a REASON you are not where you want to be. Perhaps it is that you are "always right" - except this time! Get humble and learn to learn from everybody. Even a very beginner has something of value you could learn. Stop thinking about this 'concept' or 'this scale over this chord' or the worst being 'correct'. Mostly: STOP BEING 'RIGHT' ALL THE TIME. We are all wrong at times. Make a musical statement. One full of feeling and passion.

A musician needs to be an open portal; open to all the beauty and inspiration of the world around us. This is what connects to people - not correctness. Where you place your mind is a HUGE part of the finished product. Ya' gotta have ... wait for it ... a *Players Mind!

*very clever the way I tied in the title, huh? So proud : )

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Players that inspire me - Oz Noy

My good friend and sporadic teacher Oz Noy, has a new album slated for release November 15, 2011. It is to be called the "Twisted Blues" - that is precisely what it is! The 'blues' as seen from the land of OZ - which can truly be a funny funny place! His takes on the genre are deeply respectful and well - twisted! He is such a cool person and player. I implore you all to grab this album when it hits. It will be full of killer performances just like this one.

From the Oz-man's site:
The album was recorded in New York and Austin in November and December of 2010.
In New York, Oz worked with Anton Fig and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Will Lee on bass, Jerry Z. and John Medeski on organ, Ralph McDonald on percussion, and Allen Toussaint on piano. In Austin, Chris Layton played drums, Roscoe Beck played bass, Reese Wynans played organ, and Eric Johnson joined in on guitar.

How can THAT be bad!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Seeing both sides of the Root - paternal twins

To continue on with my series of related posts designed to help you understand the fretboard, I wanted to examine different approaches to any root note. The gist of it is this:

Any chord or scale can be viewed from either side of the root note. 

What I mean by "side" is moving up the neck in the direction of the guitar's body OR moving down the neck in the direction of the guitar's headstock/tuning machines. This series of interlocking shapes can really help you in your playing relatively quickly. This is one of those little "tricks" that can instantly make you sound more pro.

You've Got Rhythm
Blues and soul players have been using this technique for years to give them options in their rhythm playing. Jimi Hendrix, despite being an incredible improvisor, was probably best known for his rhythm skills. He regularly employed this way of seeing the neck in his revolutionary rhythm style.

Jimi (and others) would pivot off the centre of both chords using notes from the shapes on either side to add embellishments. Take a look at Fig 1:

Figure 1

This major chord can be approached from either side allowing you to slide or hammer into it (a la Hendrix) adding melodic content to what could otherwise be just a simple chord vamp.

See the chart at the top. I have demonstrated Major, minor & Dominant chord shapes as viewed from either side of the root note.

Going Solo
This same concept is also applied to scale forms. Viewing scales this way can similarly open up your single note or lead playing. To make this clear, at the bottom of the chart I included how a major scale can be viewed from either side of the root.

The Assignment
Spend time with all the forms presented here. Most importantly, mix and match during songs to add embellishments or even just a different timbre to a mundane, old progression. Play all the chords you normally play... only this time from the 'other side'. This can really open things up for you or, at very least, give you an enjoyable way to approach basic chord changes.

Almost forgot! I should mention that the same principal stands; no matter which string the root resides on. So spend some time playing the above forms. Then write out the major scale on neck paper and work out what forms lie to either side of each note.

Like every lesson, you will get MUCH more from it if YOU do the investigation. All I hope to do is open doors for you with these concepts. You must walk through them.

Hit me up with any questions by way of a comment below.