Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guitar Lessons - Getting and Giving them more effectively

I have had a couple conversations lately that inspired me to write a post about guitar lessons. My background experience with teaching private lessons is quite considerable. I have also been the recipient of lessons over the years so I thought I would reflect on some of what I have learned.

This is a post written by one of the members of a guitar forum I frequent, about what she would like to see from a teacher:

"For lessons, I would hope for some sort of quick progress test with discussion of results, review of goals, intro material to work on for next time, time to work on any particular problem spots I identified, and set performance goal for next lesson with accompanying suggestions for practice. All of course based on my long and short term goals for the instrument."

Frankly, this description of what a teacher 'should do' is very good. Were I a young (or old) teacher reading this, I would write this down and use it as the baseline process for approaching your students. It is also a good statement for what to request of a potential teacher (because a lot don't do much of this).

 Pretty Utopian sadly.

Understanding the beast
Guitar teachers can be some of the most disorganized teachers in the world. One of the main reasons for this is that self-teaching of the instrument is the most common (and in many cases respected) in its community.  Yes, sadly there is that element among guitarists who feel that actually 'learning' is for the non-gifted. Guitar Gods don't take lessons (Ahem Steve Vai)! Guitar is simply most often learned through a series of trial and error.

Players of other instruments didn't learn like this. They learned mostly through centuries old training regimens and well established progressive lessons through the conservatory. Because they learned like this – they one day teach like this.

 The cycle continues in both worlds.

How did these "self-taught" learn?
Well, I learned by lifting the needle on Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" album and picking out songs like "Iron Man" one note at a time. This is a pain staking, yet pretty common story among us self-taught types. The process of getting to where I am today as a player is a disaster really! Filled with my particular personality quirks and bizarre-o experiences. So whenever a player who learned like I did, has a student look to them and ask "how did you learn to play?" It's kind of hard to answer! Luckily, I am a pretty organized guy with my thoughts and can put my process to words fairly well. But not all are like this.

 Some think "well it worked for me" and try to force it on their students. Maybe the right call… Maybe not.

"My teacher sucked…"
I dislike this comment - and I hear it a lot. Personally, I think every proficient player has SOMETHING they can teach you. As a student my goal, would be to extract those elements and move on if there is nothing more to be learned from that teacher. I hear people complain all the time about "bad teacher this" and "bad teacher that"! Personally, I think it is all excuses and BS. The student plays a significant role in the process, so if you are unwilling to dig for gold, you will likely never find any. Unless you stumble across it or someone points you to where it is.

As a student your role is equal if not much more than the guy being paid. Sounds unfair I know, but if you truly want to learn you MUST accept your role in this. Because it is massive! Know what you want and ask for it. Make sure week to week the teacher follows the path. Because remember this person has been seeing one student after another all day. Remembering all your personal goals is not always on the top of their mind - even though it should be. The best teachers I have had, keep a journal with notes about each student - what was covered, goals etc and move week to week.

So, how do I get the most from my lesson?

As a student, the fist thing I'd do (if I was unfamiliar with the teacher) is to ask them to simply play something for me. From that performance I would listen for something in it that moved me. What did he/she do well? Perhaps they have great vibrato, or some cool soloing lines etc. Whatever that element is, I would then ask to focus on extracting precisely that. You may still end up moving on after one or two lessons, but that is no reason to not get something from the time and money. You can usually tell within the first 10 minutes if the teachers approach is clicking with you. Chemistry works like that - it's obvious.

All this of course, once I determined if this teacher is or is not able to get me to my pre-defined goals (which frankly EVERY would be student should have).

 Because those should be Plan A. There are many reasons why a teacher may not be able to move you forward: Poor theoretical knowledge, bad chemistry between you, plain old weak teaching skills. But Plan B isn't always a bad thing! In fact it may show you a direction that may entice you even more! Keep that mind open.. art right? Plan B can be just as viable as Plan A.

As a teacher, the first thing I'd do is to have a discussion and see why the student came to you. Find out what excites them. What are their plans and goals? Write them down. If any of those goals lie beyond your skill set, don't lie about it or be embarrassed. Tell them your limitations so that when you cover these dodgy areas you can work through it together. If they need more, never be afraid or too prod to send them to another teacher you know that is more suited to their needs. Sometimes the best lessons I ever gave were minutes long and involved sending someone to a different teacher. The student/parents and the new teacher appreciated it too!

So what is a good teacher?
A good teacher is one who inspires, challenges, supports, informs and inspires some more. Every student is different, so the teaching approach must be altered to bring out the best in the student and keep them moving towards their goals. Sometimes that approach is rigid: step A, then B, then C, type path. Other times a "Hey! Check out this lick I learned" type lesson, can be exactly what the student needs. Each can be equally effective OR destructive.

 There are no established paths so a stubborn reliance using on what worked for you or even many others, may be a dis-service to all. Remember, this is art with a boatload of psychology mixed in.

What is a good student?
A good student is one who comes with enthusiasm. One who asks for and provides a direction. One who is vocal about what they like and dislike about a lesson. One who comes prepared and is willing to sometimes follow the teachers lead when he/she gets excited about a new idea they learned (think of it as a field trip). Mostly, one who does what is asked each week as many times teachers need you to do something before they can show you something else. Everyone wants "progressive" until it means that they have to do the work that allows such a progression to happen. MOST of the time lessons plans get  derailed in lessons I have given were simply because the student didn't do the homework. You need to prioritize this… or why do it at all.

Just as there is an exception to every rule, there are also people who will disagree with all or parts of this. That's cool too. Remember, these are simply my experiences and feeling on this topic. In giving and receiving lessons there are no set paths. Be prepared for the possibility that you may not in fact respond best to the type of lessons you are asking for. So be prepared for honesty, this is one of the beautiful things about the arts. You give passion and you shall receive in kind. You give a lump of dung and well…. you get the picture! Good luck!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Randy Rhoads - a riff composition analysis

Today I would like to take a look at a classic Randy Rhoads lick pulled from the song "Revelation (Mother Earth)". This song on Ozzy's first solo album "Blizzard of Ozz".

I have always been a large fan of Randy and his work, especially his compositions on this album and the equally stunning "Diary of a Madman". The thing about Randy's writing style that seems to grab most of his fans; is that his ideas are all so very melodic. Much of his work is solidly grounded in the principles of his classical theory upbringing and training. So by examining where he draws his note choices, this can shed considerable light on how you can compose your own ideas following Randy's lead.

Let's get into it
The lick we are looking at today happens at around the 3 minute mark of the track. (Here is a link to the tune). Below is the tabbed out riff.

This song is predominately in the key of E minor and this riff sets the tone immediately with the sliding E power chord. It gets interesting fast though as he hits a Bb chord, followed by an F# (by way of the passing tone F). At first these may seem like odd choices (and they are certainly clever) but they are based in some fairly common theory. If I stack those main notes here's what we see:

The result forms a simple F#7 chord. The common strongest resolution in all classical western music is the famous V - I (five chord of the key, resolving to the tonic or home key). In E minor this chord would be B7. The above F#7 is actually the V chord to that B7 chord. This is referred to as the V of V (five of five). In other words, the strongest resolution, to the strongest resolution to the home. Sounds complex, but give it a try. Play around with this concept. Composers have been employing it for years.

Which brings us to the run at the end. Again, if we take these notes and stack them up, here is the resulting chord:

Is this a surprise to anyone now? Seems so logical doesn't it? The riff draws the ear back to the principal tonality of the piece. He strengthens that resolution by ending on the minor 3rd. This minor 3rd - tonic move is one of the most common in rock and most forms of music.

So this lick could be summed up simply by thinking of it as an F#7 to Emin move. Thinking of it this way will help you remember it for future too. It certainly helps me.

Stripping music back to its theoretical explanation can be incredibly enlightening for any musician. I highly recommend you make this concept part of your regular playbook.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Lazy - guitar solo w/tab

Here is a very cool, very Richie Blackmore solo from the Deep Purple classic "Lazy". The song from the entirely legendary 1972 album 'Machine Head'. Always one of my favourite players with a very signature sound and feel. (Interestingly enough, the man they hired to fill Richie's shoes is very likely the one man on the planet with enough creed in the guitar community to pull it off. The legendary Mr. Steve Morse. A gentleman and a monster player himself! But also a HUGE influence of mine). But I digress.

Notated here, is the first solo after the keyboard intro (seriously how good was John Lord! May he rest in peace).

The note choices in this solo come predominately from the F minor Pentatonic scale. With occasional use of the "Blues scale" version (which adds the b5 note to the standard pentatonic box). Richie frequently slides in and out of this note to up the blues quotient - a pretty common Blackmore-ism. 

In the second half he adds notes from the F natural minor scale (also known as F Aeolian). The shape of the scale, with its open strings nicely allow for fast pull-off riffage. The hardest part of this solo lives in bar 33. It was tricky (for me) to cleanly execute the pull-off from the 2nd to 1st fret. So start slow with this and keep looping these trouble spots in isolation. Slowly building up the speed until you have it down at tempo.

Getting the sound
This is really pretty basic signal chain. Strat > distortion pedal (I used a Wampler Pinnacle) > Some plate reverb > amp. Richie Blackmore used a pretty bass heavy EQ setting but aside from that the tone lives in how he plays. You pick closer to the neck joint than the bridge to achieve a darker note.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Blog has fallen and it can't get up

Well, well, well, what a busy summer/fall it has been. It has also been a long time since I have paid any attention to these pages ... Maybe it is time for me to get back to work. 

While we are on this topic, It is interesting through this blog however, to watch the ebb  and flow of my productivity. 

It doesn't seem to matter how many years go by, the truth of this process is that sometimes you feel creative and sometimes you don't. And sometimes, while you may even feel musically creative, you still may not manage to get a lot of work done.

During these intermittent stretches when I don't feel like playing or doing anything guitar related at all. I may read a few novels. Or even heaven forbid get drawn into a TV series or two with the wife. 

I am posting this to let you know that no matter your level or experience, if you feel this way it is perfectly natural. Forcing yourself through these stretches and making yourself practice can often be the worst thing you can do for your playing. I used to get stressed out about these periods. Or even feel some levels of guilt about them. But now after all these years I see them as a vital part of the learning process. When they are over, I always come back with a vengeance taking it to even higher levels than before.

I have already begun work on a new video for the YouTube channel so watch for that. I am also keeping my ears open for a good lesson topic for these pages. If you have any suggestions of a lesson that you would like me to cover, please don't hesitate to hit the reply box down below and submit something for me to consider.

All the best

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pretty cool practice site

Just stumbled across this in my travels and it looks pretty darn cool. Staying focused on what you are doing while practising is an important part of learning. So any tool to assist with this is AOK in my books!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Joe Bonamassa - Story of a Quarryman solo w/tab

The first time I heard the song "Story of a Quarryman" it jumped right off the record with its crunchy groovy riff. The track comes from his 2009 release "The Ballad of John Henry" which in my opinion, is one of Joe's best. Rather than your typical power chord style riff, Joe thickens it right up by employing the 3rd and the 6th to thicken the root. Super cool. 

It has been fun watching Joe Bonamassa rise to the status of a 'known player'. When I first started listening to him, over a decade ago on his first release "A New Day Yesterday", he was a relative unknown. Fast forward 13 years, and I now hear his name regularly among non-guitar geeks. Which is very cool and well-deserved. Happy for him and a testament to all his years of VERY hard work.

The solo begins over an Amin to A#Maj (one bar each) vamp. Over the Amin part his note choices come mostly from A Dorian. Over the A# his note choices come from A# Lydian (Same notes as F Major). The cool part is how he ends the phrases over the A#. The first time he ends the phrase on the Major 3rd. The second time on the 6th. 

As the progression moves along it changes to a G tonality (walking down). Over this section he again goes for the Dorian sound - this time G Dorian. Pretty much all of the notes are within the G Dorian (again, same notes as F Major) scale. There is some very tricky bending in this. So it is a real ear stretcher in spots.

Getting the sound
When I recorded this I was sleeping at the wheel and used my Strat... But to nail Joe's tone use a Les Paul or another solid body guitar with humbuckers. Set it to the neck position and add some Marshall style woof to the cabinet. Joe's tone is VERY full-bodied. Lots of lower end frequencies (that engineers hate!). But Joe's tone lives mostly in his hands and vibrato. If you can nail that, then what type of setup you use is less important. My Strat sounds very close in this recording. When in reality, a Strat couldn't be much more sonically different than a Les Paul. Tone is in your hands folks - always remember that.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

100,000 readers!

100,000 readers... Very cool! Thank you all for your continuing readership & support. I hope in some small way I have helped you along your path to guitar greatness... or even just OK-ness : )

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cool looking new radio show

Just happened across a new radio show for guitar geeks just like me! Looks like it could be very cool - as is anything with Joe Bonamassa! Check it out, here is the link:

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"knowing" something vs KNOWING SOMETHING

In this wonderful interview with physicist R.P. Feynman, he discusses the difference between thinking you know something, and actually KNOWING it. This discussion very much applies to almost any field of learning.

This post was inspired by a series of forum discussions I have recently been involved in. I am a firm believer that it is better to know less things well, than many things less deeply. Far too often students move on before truly getting the most out of a lesson.

Truly great players have learned to dig deeper into concepts. We should all follow that lead.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ear to the Ground solo w/tab

The song "Ear to the Ground" comes off Matt Schofield's 2007 release of the same name. Its crunching rhythm and serious groove, make it one of my favourites of all his music. Of course it features Matt doing what he does the best - laying down some seriously cool blues phrases. Ya gotta get some of these lines.

This solo happens over the "A section" of the tune. The chords go back an forth between 2 bars of Emin, then 2 bars of D Maj. If you take a look at the strong notes of each resolve, you will see Matt nailing the changes with chord tones. First phrase: Bend up to E, E slide through the blues b5 down to an E and end the phrase on the 3rd (G). So it goes for the rest of the solo. Very in, chord tone soloing all the way. He even goes straight up the D triad before wrapping up the solo by landing on the "A" then the 3rd (C) of the first chord of the "B section" (A7). VERY logical and musical.

Getting the sound
Matt's sound is easy to get equipment-wise. Strat - set to neck position pick-up, tube amp, Tube Screamer (Klon Centaur pedal if you's got the cake!). But the tone doesn't happen here. It happens in his hands. Very expressive player so work to nail the vibrato and all the subtle bends and dynamics.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Theory? Should I or shouldn't I?

There are many stages to mastery on an instrument. But if we divide it into 2 (for the sake of argument) they would be:

  1. the years spent acquiring and internalizing the scales and chord shapes, intervals, sounds, progressions and all the technical side of it. The VAST majority of players never get near or beyond this.
  2. mastery - when all this leg work is owned and like second nature. These cats don't need to think like this any more (unless adding new pieces). they use their ears and simply play.

There is a window into this in one of Scott Henderson's videos, where he says "you gotta KNOW this stuff down. If you have to stop and think for even a second about where the notes are, you are not ready to tackle changes like this" (paraphrasing). He and other players like him, OWN this stuff. No thought, no theory, just expression, a use of all these tools.

I think most discussions of the different modal or key based (more theory driven) approaches to improvising over chords apply to the first phase (obviously). Where I get lost in these types of discussions, is when people start dissecting and analyzing what the masters do. What they do when they play I don't think applies. What they DID as they were approaching mastery during their endless practice hours is more what maters.

I think the time you spend really thinking about and using theory and all that, is the phase where these sounds get embedded in your ears. During the practicing of these approaches, where it feels very difficult and unnatural for a long while, leads eventually to hearing these sounds more clearly. The 'thinking' part fades away - THEN you can truly begin to express yourself.

Learning can lead to KNOWING...
Which is a lot better than GUESSING and HOPING!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Fantastic quote on the creative process

By Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My new favourite Pick

A trip through my local music store unearthed a hidden gem to me; The Dunlop Jazz Tone series. Specifically the 208. LOVE this thing. Nice solid contact, rolls over the string edges nice. Really good clear tone. Took me zero work to get used to and increased my picking speed and accuracy by a noticeable (to me!) amount.

The cheapest way to improve your sound and possibly help your technique is your pick. Plectrum for you UK types! I firmly believe that no matter how much you think you like the one you are using, switch it up every once in a while... or at least try to. I used to stubbornly use a specific pick for years.. decades... Then one day I tried a new thing and have never looked back. You may be surprised at the gains.

It's fun and inexpensive too. All good.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Learn to play as a chile learns to speak

This player - and his views, have had a profound effect on me as a musician. What an eloquent and talented human being. Victor - you are a gift to us brother. Thank you for all that you do.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Great iPad or iPhone app

I have been working with this great little app for my iPhone and iPad called Chordbot. It really is a great and simple little application that allows you to get simple backing tracks up and going in seconds. I highly recommend checking it out. You can really take your practice portable as this app. Using just the device's speakers and an unplugged guitar, you have a perfect neighbour-friendly practice tool.

BTW - I have ZERO affiliation with these people, just passing it around as I have found it something worth sharing. Check out their site ( for a full rundown. It has loads of features.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Red Barchetta solo w/tabs

In honour of one of my all time favourites; Rush and their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here is a classic solo from what many consider to be their finest album Moving Pictures released in 1981. This solo is from the second track Red Barchetta. Alex Lifeson has so many absolutely great solos to choose from, making it tough to choose which to be my first featured here.

Seriously, how cool is it that this solo section is in 7/4 time? I mean really, Rush can just make any odd time meter seem to flow so cleanly that most people don't even realize something tricky is afoot. They are masters at this.

The solo begins with a fast run down the A Major pentatonic scale. BUT - Alex doesn't play the standard box patten. Which allows his to access a new area of the neck upon its completion. He then runs back up the A Major scale over the relative minor chord of F#min. A quick sequence of artificial pick harmonics (A.H. on the tab). Then he gets into the intensely melodic triad section. Here he simply follows the chord backing - AMaj triad, F#min triad, G (he adds the 9 here for a little shimmer), before culminating in a D triad then some sliding 6ths to end it. Wham, boom, see ya later! Beautiful chord tone stuff kiddies.

Getting the sound
Single coil guitar. Short slap type delay, slow light flanger and a boatload of attitude.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How important is the pentatonic scale? Bobby McFerrin demonstrates.

SUPER cool musician and demonstration. Bobby McFerrin, goes far beyond just the "guy who did 'don't worry be happy'". He is a large asset to the musical community. Here he demonstrates how deep this scale goes into the human psyche. The REALLY interesting part is where he says "anywhere I go in the world, the audience gets this". I mean how can that be? We are always told about different cultural uses and microtonality, different from our own, and all that. There is just something about this pitch collection that clicks with humans. Something to think about isn't it?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Steve Vai - a window into his style development

Here is a great video where Steve breaks down a song from his newest release. It should give you some appreciation for the amount of work he has put in to developing his own style. He clearly listens for new ways and obviously HUGELY loves the path of learning. A critical element to acquiring a massive set of chops like his. Most great players have a built-in curiosity and a hunger to try new things. Demonstrated clearly here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sports and music - "training" for success

A discussion I had on a music forum the other day, prompted me to do some thinking on the similarities between training for sports and music. In that conversation, I made a comparison between playing tennis and playing a guitar - which was met with a luke-warm reaction. Once one gets beyond the distasteful thought of music as some sort of competition. One with a winner and a loser. There are some definite similarities to be explored.

I should step back momentarily and say what triggered this discussion was; in the guitar community specifically, there exists a pretty vocal group, who push some sort of he-man pride in being 'unschooled' or a 'feel player'. (These attitudes usually go hand-in-hand with a general lack of theory knowledge and certainly a lack of reading and writing abilities). My personal belief is much of this bravado is simply a cover for laziness.. and that is kind of what prompted this sports/music comparison.

I was thinking... you never hear a pro athlete bragging in interviews. They just don't say that they "don't know what they are doing" or that they are a "feel player"! Athletes don't pride themselves in not working hard the way some musicians do (In spite of the fact most advanced musicians have put in far more hours on their instrument than a doctor has in school for medicine).

If you hired a professional athlete to train you; they certainly wouldn't just play the game with you would they? There might be something to learn in that approach surely. But also could come with some potential negative effects on you (as you realize the vast crevice between your level and theirs). Just playing wouldn't be enough. I have always made a light joke that musicians are really just "finger athletes" so let's take a look at typically how pro athletes train for success.

Top level athletes implement a targeted training approach and it would be something like this:

  • Spend an unrealistic amount of time devoted to the craft - more than the next guy
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Work out (off-field, court, ice) to strengthen muscles
  • Train specific movements in isolation (i.e. shooting practice or passing drills etc.)
  • Practice visualizations, work on mental aspects and concentration
  • Study different formations of coverage/attack and defence strategies
  • Scrimmage or play friendly game simulations
  • Schedule regular practice sessions
  • Play the actual game
  • Watch video after, stopping to view errors, identify opponents habits - good and bad, discuss and assess individual performances
  • Spend time watching other games as a fan
  • Work in some days for rest
  • Get lots of sleep

Quite a list isn't it. ...

Now let's look at how this relates to musical study.

  • Spend an unrealistic amount of time devoted to the craft - more than the next guy (same)
  • Eat a balanced diet (same)
  • Work out (off-field, court, ice - stage, jam room ) to strengthen muscles (Practice - finger patterns, scales, chords sequences etc)
  • Train specific movements in isolation (i.e. shooting practice or passing drills etc) (work on specific fingerings that are causing problems, isolate a chord change (theory) and practice playing over them, different voicings of the progression etc)
  • Practice visualizations, work on mental aspects and concentration. (Visualizing the instrument, developing phrasing skills, stage freight, focus issues etc. Many musicians meditate for this reason)
  • Study different formations of coverage/attack and defence strategies (theory/transcribing/analysis)
  • Scrimmage or play friendly game simulations (soloing to backing tracks, jamming along with albums, lifting songs)
  • Schedule regular practice sessions (jamming)
  • Play the actual game (gig/performance/recording)
  • Watch video after game (listen to performance recording playback), stopping to view errors (listen for problems in your playing), identify opponents habits - good and bad (transcribing), discuss and analyze individual performances (Post transcription analysis - discuss with other players online or in person)
  • Spend time watching other games as a fan (listening to songs you love)
  • Work in some days for rest (same)
  • Get lots of sleep (same)
As you can see, this comparison isn't so far off the mark. Music, as with sports can come with some definite born in advantages/disadvantages. Sadly for us mortals, there will always be those people that achieve at a higher level... in spite of their practice habits. But even those - despite what they may tell you - have likely done many of the above things through their own intuition. 

To achieve success at the highest level does not happen by accident and clearly medical evidence has shown; we are not born with these abilities. They are nurtured over time through passion, persistence and a truck load of plain and simple work. But look at the number of things on the list above. Of all those points only one of them is playing the actual 'game'. The vast majority of the milage is made up outside of these moments.

So... Does your practice routine look similar to the above? Because, if not - and you dream of playing at the highest levels - you may have some things to consider.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Writer's block - some thoughts on overcoming

Writer's block... seem to have it now as I stare at this page! For any artist, musician, writer, who creates original compositions just those words strike fear. For the purposes of this entry remember,  this is really a music blog, that will be the sometimes unavoidable focus of this article. But a most of these concepts apply to any medium.

Just do it
A great piece of advice on writing came to me from my lovely wife. She - a part-time journalist and one-time journalism major back in her college days - has dealt with this issue a myriad of times before. Her advice (paraphrasing here): "Get a pencil, and just start writing - anything and everything that comes into your mind. No matter how nonsensical. The act of simply writing will just get the mind flowing. Soon it will transform into something usable. Or a grain of something you can build on". This, works. Plain and simple. No matter what the medium, sometimes you just need to start 'doing'.

Other angles
In art college (I went to school for graphic design after years as a pro musician) I had a professor who assigned a mock project that required us to paint a cover illustration for a yachting publication. My painting consisted of: Boat on the ocean, sun and channel marker buoy in the distance, seagulls, at sunset. Fairly typical marine scene. Once completed he said "Fantastic! Now redo it, as if you were seeing the scene from the other side". So I re-painted it - sun behind, buoy in front, ship in the distance, added a marina in the background... Whew! He saw it and said "Fantastic! Let's do it one more time as a seagull looking down on the scene.". He had us do this 5 times! I wanted to murder him, but in the end - we had a fully developed 3 dimensional view of the idea. The cool part was that my original perspective wasn't the best one! One of the single best lessons I ever had. Sometimes seeing it from a completely opposite angle changes everything.

Add some other minds to the mix
To begin with, it should be said that a BIG part of the problem these days - in this 'wonderful' time of computer and home do-it-yourself technology - is that artists can sit alone and write ideas endlessly. In isolation, without cost... Sounds great right? Well, it is... But not always. What you need to remember is, your same ideas, when collaborated with others, could change drastically. Maybe even taking what now appears an obvious rip-off, or lifeless piece to completely new places. Your ideas maybe aren't bad... but maybe the fact that they haven't been fleshed out with humans is a big part of their perceived lameness.

I just lived this example. I was asked to join an original band project. I did what was requested of me and wrote a piece of music for us to work on. It was well received and we jammed on it for a bit. The bass player really liked one part, he heard something in it. It was a part I had used as just a filler, a mini-bridge before the chorus. At his urging, the tune got completely re-arranged. The part I was using as the main verse got dumped altogether - replaced by this 'filler' riff. The whole picture evolved from that new place as the individuals added 'what they do' to the idea. The tune in the end, is very much nothing like what I wrote... I mean it is - but it really isn't any more. But it is honestly a better piece overall.

Writing is a process
It's an art. The hard reality is; you need to write some really weak pieces (a lot), before some good ones may be allowed to come. So I say "let the crap flow!" get it out of the way. Write your obvious riffs and get them out on the table, so the real stuff can flow. Don't be frustrated - see it as growth.

Or give up
Which is what most people do.

How about turn the tables on it and TRY to write or create a horrible piece. Write the worst song ever.

You have to ask yourself, did you honestly think all your pieces would be groundbreaking? Because if so, you better check that ego. Writing original pieces is NOT easy. Thank goodness too! Because if it were everyone would do it... making it... no longer original. After all, where's the fun in that!

Some music solutions
  • Take your riff and change the time signature. I guarantee any riff played in 7 or 5 will add a whole new dimension. What about 3? 6? 9? 11? Try them all.
  • What about power chords? Augment or diminish one here and there (move the fifth up or down one fret).. Or add one or two if none appear in the piece.
  • What about sliding into notes instead of hitting them square
  • Or displacing one or two notes by an octave
  • Make one of the notes of the riff a chord
  • Play it on a different part of the neck
  • Skip strings on a guitar - or add a large intervallic leap on other instruments.
  • Half time feel, double time
  • Change the key 
  • Drop the tuning 
  • Add open strings to the idea or chords
  • Alternate open tunings
  • Maybe use less distortion effects, change the feel from up-tempo to a ballad 
  • Try even adding random noise (feedback, harmonic, toggle switch, pick scrape) into the picture.

Let's get all Zen
We all go through more fertile periods in our life. So in less fertile times, you need to rely on your cunning to make your art. There is a great analogy a super successful salesman once told me. He probably stole it from somewhere but I thought it was awesome:

"Most people when they get a job picking apples, grab a basket and walk around the orchard. They grab only apples they can reach. Problem is, most of the good apples are already taken by the people who went before. When the basket isn't quite full, they will grab the best ones they can find off the ground. Cash their basket in and call it a day. Then there is the another kind of person. One who will do what it takes, maybe go grab the long extension ladder. At risk to their personal safety and convenience they will pick the best ones that live near the top of the trees. These are the people who do work of substance."

Speaks for itself really. Sometimes we all need to dig deeper. 
I think maybe we should grab the ladder : )

Thursday, March 7, 2013

triads - the power of three

Hey folks, here is a quick and very useful little tool that can help you expand your note choices when soloing.

Let's set this example as if you were playing over a minor chord... You could always use the old standby options like Dorian and Aeolian, pentatonic minor and blues version among other scales. But typically people are bored of the pentatonic and the 7 notes scales have some tricky notes to work with. Wouldn't it be great to have a pool of notes (or pitch collection) to work with that has only great sounding notes? Well, here's a way to do just that. 

The ticket here is working with 3 easy-to-remember triads. So imagine - we are soloing right now over a minor chord... Let's call it A minor. The the notes of A minor are - A, C & E - this is all you need to know to use this. A little trick to remember is; if it is a minor chord, you work your way up with an alternating pattern starting with the kind of chord (so minor chord = minor,major,minor...). If it were a Major chord you were over it would be the opposite Major, minor, Major. Remember you start the pattern with the type of chord you are over.

So for our example an Amin chord (remember the notes are A,C,E) you could play:
A minor triad
C Major triad
E minor triad
See they flip flop minor,major,minor,major,minor...
If it were a Major chord (A, C#, E) you could play:
A Major triad
C# minor triad
E Major triad.
See they flip flop major,minor,major,minor... as you work your way up the notes of the chord.
Don't just read this - grab your guitar and try it. You will soon see how easy it is to remember. Soon it forms those nice little finger patterns most guitarists love so dearly. Try making up a "scale" build of only notes of these three options. Now use these to make some great music.

Matt Schofield - again - yeah, fanboy

Man this guy is awesome. Love his playing and attitude, the whole bit. His "gear nerd-ery" comment is quite funny and I certainly relate. Enjoy

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kenny Werner Masterclass

Kenny Werner to me, is like the yoda of music. I absolutely love his approach and his observations strike me as very accurate. I first came across Kenny through his wonderful book 'Effortless Mastery' - one of my all-time favourite music books. Check out this video and really consider his words. You will be a better player for it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Take the Power Back solo w/tabs

Here is a 90's classic "Take the Power Back" by Rage Against the Machine. This solo is one of Tom Morello's few all out burners where he let's his chops hang old-school. Rage hit me and the world like a freight train. I will NEVER forget the first time they came into town in support of their first album. Small theater show, with less than 1000 people on hand. They hit the stage and absolutely annihilated the place. Ranks up there with the very best rock performances I have ever witnessed (and I saw a LOT of the bigs in their prime).

This song is a standard tuning - but the E string gets dropped down to a D. So it is D,A,D,G,B,E. The solo portion is centered around the D natural minor scale (Aeolian mode - so same notes as the key of F Major). There really is nothing added other than the very cool Dmin7 triad that slides down to the #6. The ending is a chromatic series of dissonant diminished chords that end on the note E (played as an octave chord). An odd choice? I suspect it could have been a passionate misfret that just was left in the recording. You'd have to ask Tom!

Getting the sound
Pretty simple here, guitar with humbuckers through a tube amp. Lots of gain, but mostly aggression. Don't be nice to it.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pedalboard fun

Check out this cool little club pedalboard I assembled. My son gave me one of his old skateboard decks. So I took some Velcro, screws, rubber feet and a handful of my unused pedals that I can swap out depending on the gig. All I need now is a skateboard bag and I will be truly rockin and Rollin!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

John Schofield - "On Improvisation"

One of the best videos from one of the greatest players ever to pick up the instrument. Go out an buy yourself a copy of this beaut. It's a 4 part vid - so look for all 4.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Roben Ford - Crafting a solo

This is some great advice from one of my all time favourite soloists. If you are not familiar with Robben's playing I would suggest hitting YouTube and check the man out. I first came across him many years ago with the Yellowjackets and Miles Davis. THAT is heavy company to keep!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Modes - clearing up some common confusions.

With modes, sometimes you need to step back to start to understand them. So let's go back to the basic understandings of a mode: a mode is simply a major scale - but with a different note as the tonic or home tone.

So the key of G has the notes: G,A,B,C,D,E,F#,G
A Dorian has the notes: A,B,C,D,E,F#,G,A

Same notes right?
Different order - THIS matters.

A Dorian has the note A - which also means that its associated chord (Amin) is the tonic or 'home tone'. So a song that uses the notes of the key of G - BUT IS CENTERED AROUND THE CHORD Amin is a Dorian piece.

Sounds simple yes? Well it is. 
But here's the thing; YES - you can use all of the chords that live within the key of G. But the problem is, this pool of notes (or pitch collection) has a STRONG gravity towards the note G - NOT A. So the more of these chords you add to your progression, the less 'Dorian' it will sound.

This is why typically, most songs considered truly "modal" are based around just one or 2 chords. Using only one or two chords can create the sound of a drone of sorts. This harmonic simplicity allows the listener to soak in the true nuances of the desired mode. Think bagpipes or Indian music. A constant note provides a built-in framework, which has a real beauty to it.... or ugliness as desired.

Let's also discuss a couple other confusing things:

  1. The use of a 'scale mode' and something being 'modal' are not the same. During a solo, over a static chord, sure you can use different modes momentarily... Jazz guitarists do this all the time. But understand that this does nothing to affect the songs overall modality. The chords define the mode NOT the scale you are choosing to use.
  2. Modes are NOT scale shapes.... well, I mean, they are... or can be. But playing in Mixolydian mode (for example) can be fingered a number of different ways. Typically guitarists tend to think of things as fingering shapes - again TYPICALLY with the root centred on the low E string. This is not what is going on here. All the answers lie in the notes or pitch collection used.

You want to write a modal piece? It's simple.

STEP 1: Pick a mode
Let's pick Mixolydian, the fifth mode of G (for example). The V chord in any key is dominant, so that means to get the Mixolydian sound, we use a D7 chord as the root of our progression. So strum away and record yourself doing so... one chord, chug, chug, chug.

STEP 2: Write a melody (or 'head')
Play around until you find a melody that works over your D7 backing.

STEP 3: Support the newly created melody
Once you have your drone and melody in place start adding in chords (again, of the key of G) to your backing  - but whatever you do, make sure you keep going back to the D7.


Voila! A modal song. This concept confused me for soooooo long that when i finally grasped it, it seemed anti-climactic. I hope that just happened for you too. : )

Modal understanding should be a part of every musicians bag of tricks. BUT - it is not some magic potion. Applying creativity to everything you do IS what it is all about. So armed with this knowledge, get out there and write me a classic. Modal sounds have been utilized by everybody from the classical masters, to the Beatles, right up to this day. You can learn to use them too.

With a little practice of course!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Matt Schofield - War we wage solo w/tabs

This song; "War We Wage" from his 2009 album: Heads, Tails & Aces. (Get it! a great album) made me break my "complete the video in one hour" rule! It's so great when a player comes into your consciousness and their playing hits you right to the core. This was the case for me when I first heard British guitar great Matt Schofield. His playing has so much soul and blues spirit I was instantly grabbed. His ability to seamlessly phrase with intelligence and melody is rare indeed. You get the feeling this guy could continue to solo for hours and it would never get old. 

This is basically a Bmin Blues which goes back and forth between Bmin and E7. Matt typically plays pentatonic minor over the one chord and often moves to Mixolydian over the V chord (so Bmin blues pentatonic E Mixolydian). But the beauty of his playing lies not in the note choices entirely. Take a look at the chart and check out how much expression is in his playing. Tons of bends and slides and hammers/pulls. Different pick attacks the whole gamut. He doesn't just play a series of notes he PLAYS them! Beautiful.

Getting the sound
Pretty simple here, Fender strat through a tube amp. Add a tube screamer type overdrive (He uses a Klon Centaur through a two rock amp). You aren't gonna nail this tone with gear. It's all in your hands.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Benefits of fitness on your playing

(What a great excuse to put a hot chick on the page. This blog could use a little more zip)

Oh no! Don't tell me I am another one of these 'newly-on-a-workout-kick-go-preach-about-it' types. Sorry folks, but yes it appears to be true. Lucky you! For the past 3 weeks I have been really working hard at getting back in shape and eating better. Will it stick? Will that bag of Doritos make their way back in my hand in short time? I really don't know... but I sure hope not. Getting fit and eating healthy is quite like learning guitar - if (when) you stumble, all you can do is keep getting back on the horse. Which I plan to do.

edit: A friend of mine Mark Wein (who has a great blog) just did a similar post on health benefits. Click here to hear his story and process.

So, what does this have to do with guitar?
Well, after 3 short weeks I have already noticed a few things. My energy level is slowly notching higher (after some initial fatigue in the first week). This new energy is beginning to lead to increased productivity. When I get snack cravings, I grab my guitar instead. Having this distraction is helping me escape temptation, whilst improving my playing. My thoughts seem a little clearer, attention span a hair longer. Memory seems a little more vivid.

Overall THESE FEELINGS are beginning to become addictive... exciting in a way. No, I don't yet jump out of bed in the morning knowing I am headed to the gym. Nor am I thrilled at having a salad (instead of a combo #3, one hard, one soft with an iced tea and a burrito on the side : ) But at least now some of the benefits are showing. Which makes the idea of sticking to it less awful.

The diet side was really hard in the first few days/week to not fall back on old eating habits. But now I seem, just a little, more OK with it.

OK Richard Simmons What's your point.
The point is; that without your health all your practicing can go for naught. Spending some time working on your health, can have an exponential impact on how you think and therefore how you play. If you want to be your best, you (I... we) must make this part of the equation. Yes it is hard, NO it isn't easier for others... they just prioritize it higher (a lesson my lovely wife has taught me). NOBODY finds this easy, they LEARN to find joy in it... Just like we do with an instrument.

Give it a shot, ya might even score some more tail too! A benefit that CAN'T be overlooked.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Paul Gilbert - infectious dude

Seriously, how can you not love Paul Gilbert. This guy is not only one of the best shredders on the planet, but clearly a guy who truly loves guitar. Whether you are a fan of his music or not, you should listen to his words, because this is a guy who clearly gets it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Time - Guitar solo w/Tabs

Pink Floyd's album Dark Side of the Moon - released in 1973 - was a ground breaking album that stands up to this day as one of the greatest pieces of recorded art there is. It catapulted Pink Floyd out of smaller venues and into stadiums based on the strength of the album. Although the song "Money" was the decisive hit that caught the public's attention, the song that stood out to me on first listen was the song "Time". I still remember that first listen clearly - the sounds of the clocks and the ticking lead in. With it's 12 bass heavy chimes (cooly placed on the "and" of beat four BTW!) Leading up the the first lyric of the song. Well thought out, simple and beautiful delivery of a concept.

David Gilmour is quite simply put; one of my very favourite players. Whenever I am struggling to keep things simple and musical, I always draw inspiration from him. Pink Floyd's music was like the sound track for my teenage Sunday mornings (and end-of-the-night Saturdays!). I HIGHLY recommend any guitar player to spend some time with their tunes. The focus is always on serving the song, creating environments and musical landscapes first - NEVER seemingly ego driven. This was a true BAND, that understood the importance of the sound of the whole, instead of featuring the players themselves.

The solo weaves through the (F#min, A, E) then (D, A, D, A, D, C#min, B, A, E) backing chord tones. Overall key of F#min. Hitting strong notes of the chords all the way - VERY typical of David Gilmour. When you are trying to learn his solos, lift the chords first - as 95% of your notes are right there. For example, the first arpeggio of the B section (D,A,D...) is a D Major chord straight up. Also in the beginning of the solo (end of bar 6) he does a double stop which is simply the 5th and 3rd of the A Major chord - played as 6ths. Check it out for yourself, do a quick analysis. It's a great exercise. His bends almost always resolve up to chord tones, creating that 'majestic' sound. Couple this approach, with his amazing tone, beautiful touch and taste and you have the recipe for his soloing approach.

Getting the sound
This is a classic David Gilmour strat tone. Neck pickup (I used the bridge as my amp was pretty dark so the cut of the bridge pickup seemed to work better). The Uni-vibe gives it that squishy tone coupled with a nice slow delay and fairly generous reverb.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.