Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Ear Training Challenge - Take it.

Many guitar players are often searching for that missing practice element that will make a difference in their playing. My contention is the #1 "secret" to playing well - if there is one - can be found in learning songs and solos from the recordings - using only your ears.

A lot of players may know a lot of songs, but how many of them were learned with the help of TAB's? If the answer is "a lot" then this challenge is for you.

Conversely, many players DO spend a good deal of time learning songs by ear. But many of these cats may be missing one critical element - analysis. After a song or solo is learned, it should be checked over to see what makes it tick. It is during this process that really valuable observations happen.

The more you do this, the more these observations become increasingly clear. Insight like this can be very handy the next time you are required to improvise, or work your way through an unfamiliar song.

So here is the challenge.

ONE MONTH, nothing but this process for the entire practice month.
Here is what I want you to do.

  • Pick a guitarist that you know is good and really like how they play (eg - David Gilmour of Pink Floyd)
  • Pick your favourite album (eg. Dark side of the moon)
  • Learn EVERY SINGLE guitar solo on the record, using only your ears
  • As you complete track one, go back and figure out:
    - What key the song was in
    - What chords were played behind the solo
    - What scale was mostly used in the solo
    - What notes were chosen and how many of them were chord tones from the underlying rhythm part
    - Were there any triads, or chord fragments present in the solo, played as single note lines
    - When there is a bent note what was the note bent to?? A chord tone or non?
    - What was the time signature
  • Track how long time-wise did it take you to complete. (Track this so you can see your progress and your ears improving.)
  • Move onto track two, progressing until you complete the album.
  • Pick a new album and carry on...
    - If you choose another album of the same artist, you will gain a MUCH deeper insight into that players habits and approaches.
    - If you pick an album from the same genre, it will give you a better understanding of that genre.

Print this out and fill it out like a questionnaire as you do this process.
Use a software like Transcribe! to assist you.

Some people will say "this is too hard"... or that "I guess I just don't have good ears". If this is you, you need to read this... in fact, read it any way!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Scott Henderson - Again-derson! Friday fun

Man am I am fan of this cat's playing. Here is Scott Henderson playing the title tracks from two of his albums. I am particularly a fan of his monstrous Strat tone! Between 94 & 2002 he released three 'blues' albums - Dog Party, Tore Down House & Well to the Bone. If you are a fan of the Blues style and you like severely GREAT guitarists, then these albums should be in your collection.

So grab a cold one, turn em up loud, and ENJOY!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Speed vs Melody - a rant

It takes a good deal of skill to create something that is both fast AND melodic. But the catch is, if you always stay with what your idea of "melodic" is, then you can become very one-dimensional. Speed has an emotional content... it says something - if done right that is. Problem is, It often is not "done right". As witnessed on YouTube or in many bars across the globe. I think this is the crux of it.

How you execute melody really depends on the point of the skill curve you are on... If you can play fast passages as well as slow ones - yet remain melodic - then to me, this is the best-case scenario. Players who own this are likely what lured you to play fast in the first place.

If your skill isn't quite there yet to execute fast, then when the "tape" is rolling, it may be the best choice to keep it simple. As you improve, your version of what is "simple" also moves along in lock-step. All of a sudden you can execute more technical parts, yet remain musical. So playing within your abilities is the key.

The Genesis of the 'simple' mindset
I think a LARGE part with what is (in my opinion) "wrong" with a lot of bands these days, is they grew up listening to grunge. Their bag of tricks is SO small that they really have no idea how to expand on a theme, or create a decent solo. So they just plod along with cowboy chords, lots of distortion and syrupy, predictable melodies. They don't know what to do... and they don't know why they don't.

For those unfamiliar with the term; "grunge" was a brand of stripped down rock, born in Seattle in the 90's. Pioneered by bands like Nirvana. Great music no doubt... I take no issue with the music itself. But the mind set of a grunge player was one of 'anti-skill'. They didn't want to be seen as technical. They were down and dirty, garage bands and proud! Young players of that time were so sick of the over-playing and shred heavy soloing that much of metal and hard rock had become. So grunge was anti...

Which is fine for the players who created it! They had their stuff together. But for the kids learning to play at the time, these were their role models.

The great early masters grew up learning classical and with that skill set created jazz. Players who created the classic rock of the 60's-70's grew up learning from these players ... They knew their stuff. The next era learned from these slightly less skilled guys ... and knew a little bit less..... Like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy - degrading in quality and getting further removed from true musical skill with each step.

Shred Anonymous
The truth of it is, the VAST majority of us are not honest with ourselves. Not honest AT ALL. We don't produce ourselves well. without ego, as a listener would. You really need to understand WHY you are shredding. If it is deep down a need to impress people, then maybe you should hold off. I suspect far more of us than are willing to admit shred because we want to be thought of as a top-notch player. It comes from a place of ego. THIS undermines ALL the hard work we are doing. If you always play the best part for the SONG... not for YOU, but for the SONG, then you can't go wrong.

Simple Anonymous
 But none of this in my opinion means you shouldn't try to be the best you can be. The flip side is a LOT of players simply aren't willing to do the work it takes to master speed. So they call themselves "feel players". Then go around mocking more technically skilled players with words like "widdly, widdly" or tags like "self indulgent". It can be a BS cop out too.

So what does all this mean?
If you like simple melodies because you like simple melodies - GREAT! Play simple.
But - if you like simple melodies, because you maybe lack the skill to play more complex ones... then perhaps you should get to work.

All this relies on you being truly, deeply, heart-breakingly honest with yourself.