In 2006, I had some spare time one day and thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll make a little video and put it on Youtube. I called it “240 chords in 6 minutes”, and, while its 100,000+ hits don’t match the view numbers of talking dog videos or Andy McKee’s “Driftin’”, it reached exponentially more people than I’d reached in my previous 37 years of guitar teaching. In the video, I mentioned that there would eventually be a full length DVD covering the material in more depth. That day has finally come, with the help of Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop. We embarked on a series of five DVD’s, and the first two are now available at Stefan’s website.
The introductory material is now posted on Youtube for the first two videos. One is “A Nuts And Bolts Approach To Chords”.
The other is “A Nuts And Bolts Approach To Melody”. These videos have allowed me to go into much greater depth, and I’ve been able to teach many easy little tricks for improving your playing!
Stefan has also posted an extended interview with some performance. Hope you enjoy watching it.
Still in the pipeline: DVD’s on the Nuts and Bolts Approach to improvisation, solo flatpicking, and “owning” a jazz standard. Stay tuned and enjoy!
Here’s a quote from Martino’s “Quantum Guitar” DVD. It shatters some myths about the importance of “music theory” in soloing…whaddya think?
Martino is talking about fingering patterns on the neck: “I refer to these fingerings as spacial fingerings, because they came from spacial positions in this structure (demonstrates fingering), and were applied mechanically to this [other] structure (demonstrates again) with no melodic concern whatsoever…in doing so, I would then advise you to take fingerings of the things that you are playing, the patterns that you already have absorbed, and begin to spread them into different various areas of the guitar, with your ears neutral in the process, so that your ears are not judgementally governing your choice of possibilities for improvisation, which has to be neutral at all times”.
Here’s how I hear this: We probably all agree that the ear is the final arbiter. Whatever we normally play is organized by some kind of logical construct: Maybe it’s chords in progression, maybe it’s a scale or series of scales, maybe it’s a series of arpeggios…and we know what it’ll sound like before we play it; that’s the hallmark of you playing the guitar, rather than the guitar playing you. Then, from these logical constructs, we choose what we like. What Martino is suggesting is an organized way of enlarging the menu of available sounds by also using physical constructs (fingering patterns) which may have worked for you logically, but which you now take out of their context and sort of randomly insert them elsewhere, so they no longer “make sense” musically. This would lead to new sounds from which to choose. He doesn’t say that you should not be judgemental in creating the final product, just that “your ears are not judgementally governing your choice of possibilities”.
In the video, he then demonstrates various ways of applying these ideas in his usual mindblowingly fluid playing style.
I’m gonna chew on this for a year or two, and just felt compelled to share…
It’s busy times these days in Rollyworld! Check the “gigs, etc.” link for fall events. Mark Cosgrove and I are producing our 19th annual Bucks County Guitar Summit. Our guests this year are Tim & Myles Thompson. Tim is the ’08 Int’l Fingerstyle Guitar Champion from Winfield. He’s just a monstrous player in many styles. His 17 year old son Myles is a killer violin/fiddle virtuoso. Mark is one of the world’s great flatpicking guitarists, a former Nat’l Flatpicking Champion, currently playing in the band of legendary guitarist David Bromberg. It’ll be a great day, with a 3 hour afternoon workshop from 1 till 4 pm, and an 8 pm evening concert. Check this video of Tim’s killer arrangement of the Flintstones theme: If you’re interested or nearby, info is here.
Lenny Breau, the brilliant Canadian jazz guitarist, was a great admirer of jazz piano master Bill Evans. One of the things he found in Evans’s playing was the use of sparse chord backing, which allowed a kind of “less is more” approach to arranging. Lenny moved it onto the guitar in his own unique way.
Here’s how it works: “7th” chords are made up of 4 notes: 1-3-5-7. They are commonly Major (1-3-5-7), Minor (1-b3-5-b7), or Dominant (1-3-5-b7). Note that the 1 and 5 remain the same in all 3 families. The 3 and the 7 denote the “color” of the chord (major, minor, or dominant), and are often referred to as the “color tones”, or “essential tones”. These three primary chord families often represent the larger ideas of motion (minor), tension (dominant), and resolution (major). The model for this idea is the “ii-V-I” progression. In the key of G, the “ii chord” is the Am7, the “V chord” is the D7, and the “I chord” is the Gmaj7. Played in that order, they cycle through motion, tension, and on to resolution.
The 3 and 7 often occur on adjacent strings, commonly on the D and G strings. They can occur in either order: “3-7″, or “7-3″. In cases where the 7 is on the bottom, the chords tend to have a darker, more ominous sound, and this facilitated the dark pallette on which Breau painted his impressionistic masterpieces. The video below shows some examples.
Those of you who know me have heard me tell tales of Steve Mann, the elusive West Coast guitarist who influenced the likes of Jorma Kaukaunen, Stefan Grossman, Paul Geremia, Barry Melton, etc., then went off the rails, diagnosed as schizophrenic, and disappeared for decades, re-emerging in Berkeley in 2003, where he lived and held court until his death until 2009.
During those missing decades, many of us listened to old tapes and a couple albums, and tried to learn Steve’s complex jazzy blues guitar licks. While the older Steve was still a great guitarist, his degenerating health and medications clouded the brilliance of his youthful playing. Recently, guitarist Joe Mackessy, one of Steve’s good friends during his last years, wrote and alerted me to this previously unknown live concert recording from 1966. It gives ample example of the jawdropping musicianship and comprehension of the blues coming from a young SoCal suburban kid.
Click below to go to “Wolfgang’s Vault” and here this rediscovered concert from one of the great guitarists of our era.
For more info on Steve, or to order the released CD’s of his earlier recordings, go to Janet Smith’s website for Steve, here:
Janet was instrumental in looking after Steve and getting his recordings re-released in the later years.
To read about my experiences when visiting Steve in 2006:
To see some video of Steve from 2008
A great old tune from the previous Great Depression! A tip of the hat to the late Steve Mann for the high-powered 8va ending! Played on the old Gibson L-0.
Grooveyard was written by a West Coast jazz musician named Carl Perkins (not to be confused with the “Blue Suede Shoes” guy). I first heard it done by the great British guitarist Davy Graham, and I tried it in several keys before I found one I liked. Choosing a key for a solo guitar piece is crucial to the success of the arrangement, and it’s important to remember, when considering many jazz tunes which were written in flat keys, that they were written that way to make it easy for horn players. The fact that they were then difficult for guitar players was a side effect. When playing solo guitar, that side effect is often unnecessary, so we choose the most “guitaristic” key for the arrangement. This is one of those great tunes that walks the line between jazz and blues. Played here on a 1938 Gibson L-0 model guitar.
Well, it’s been a while since this blog has been active, but I’m hoping to be a bit more consistent in the future. For starters, I’ll be putting up more tunes, mostly the same ones I put on Facebook every Sunday. Here’s “When Sunny Gets Blue”, todays offering!
When students ask about establishing a practice regime, my rule is always “spend about half your time working, and about half your time playing”. The “work” part actually can be divided into two categories: “head work” and “hand work”. This concept is stolen from the teachings of the late Howard Roberts, a great jazz player and educator. He said that head work will fry your brain and can only be productive for a short time; maybe 15 minutes or so. It can include composing a lick or line, studying a/or transcribing someone else’s solo, arranging a tune, working on a specific fingering for a scale or arpeggio…
Hand work, on the other hand, can be done for long periods, and mostly includes careful repetition to get the results of your head work embedded in your muscle memory. This can be mindful and meditative, or it can be something you do while watching TV, just so long as you remember: “Perfect practice makes perfect”. So that covers the “part-work” segment.
Then there’s the “part play” segment. This may be important for a couple reasons. First, remind yourself why you started playing music in the first place. Wasn’t at least part of it simply about enjoying the experience of playing, whether it was singing and accompanying yourself on a simple folk or pop song, or playing a complicated fingerstyle piece or chord melody arrangement? So, go back there, to that simple fun part, and make sure music doesn’t become just another chore, because you will lose interest. Second, you need to allow yourself to operate from the more intuitive right side of the brain sometimes. Just play stuff you love, or doodle around on a tune you already know, letting yourself be creative without worrying about that internal editor saying, “no, that’s too simple,” or “Stop! That was a bad note!!” This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still be striving to be musical. In fact, when you’re playing familiar material, you’ll be able to devote more attention to the “feel” of the music, which is of huge importance. Just have fun, free associate, doodle. Remember, the average listener will appreciate simple notes played with great feel much more than complex notes played with lousy feel.
One part of the “part play” segment can be practicing improvisation over rhythm tracks or favorite CDs. When I think about improvisation, I always think of the analogy between music and martial arts.
- Practicing your scales and arpeggios is like practicing punches, kicks, etc.
- Learning a piece of music is like learning a kata or form.
- Practicing improv with rhythm tracks is like shadow boxing, or training with a bag.
- Improvising in a jam or a band is like sparring with a classmate or friend.
Steps 1 and 2 may be part of the “part work” regime, and are about perfecting the physical mechanics of what you do. Step 3 is part of the “part play” regime, and is about learning to be fluid and changeable while using good physical mechanics. All three of these steps come under the heading of “homework”.
Step 4 is the goal. Whether musically or martially, the quality of your interaction with others will depend upon whether you’ve done your homework.
And, of course, step 4 is also part of the homework, because it’s where you learn to let all of the other work/play occur while you’re “busy” paying attention to the moment, and “listening” to what’s going on around you.
And if you’re a solo player, and aren’t interested in improvising? Well, then, performing becomes “step 4″, and your goal is to be able to perform the things that developed from your homework while you are inevitably thinking about what the audience is thinking, what you’re thinking about what they’re thinking, etc. etc.
Whatever your goals, this idea of “Part work, Part play” is valuable. And one more thought; one of the great things about guitar is that you don’t need a long warm-up to be productive. Six 10 minute sessions (or even 10 six minute sessions) will produce as much improvement as one hour-long session, so keep your guitar handy. I usually leave mine on the bed during the day (it keeps Django the dog from planting his butt on my pillow) in the hardshell case (properly humidifed if necessary), but with just one shut clasp. That way, I’m just a flick away from making music.
When I started writing this blog, my old friend Danny Gotham offered to write a guest column, since he has a lot of very smart stuff to say about guitar playing but didn’t have the motivation to start his own blog.
I’ve known Danny for 31 years, and consider him one of my “guitar brothers”…We went to different schools together. So here is Danny’s offering on beginning to learn improvisation:
One of the most common requests I get from students is to teach them how to
Here’s some of my basic thinking about this topic.
First of all, improvisation requires a particular attitude, or mindset. I
believe that the true improviser has to be somewhat fearless–they have to
be willing to jump in to the deep end, and believe that they can swim. That
doesn’t mean that one can play with no rules. There are parameters that must
be observed, regardless of the setting for any improvisation. If a player
has no idea about these parameters, that fearlessness becomes recklessness,
and the music will crash and burn.
I get a great number of students who take this approach to improvisation:
they begin by buying one of the hundreds of books out there—something like
“10,987 scales for all purposes” or something like that—and proceed to learn
their scales, one by one.
Here’s my suggestion. If you want to learn how to improvise, you need only one scale to begin with—and that is the pentatonic. Of course, you will
eventually need to know much more than the pentatonic, but what is essential
when learning how to improvise is not how many scales you know, but what
you do with the ones (one) that you do know.
I use an analogy regularly when I instruct on this subject: think of a scale
as a vocabulary for a new language you are learning to speak. After you have
required enough basic vocabulary, what happens with it? Do you:
A. spill out your entire vocabulary every time you speak in that language?,
B. you use just a few words, and create sentences.
The best advice I have ever heard about improvisation came from Herb Ellis.
He was the guitarist in the great Oscar Peterson trios of the 1950s. Herb
was the first jazz guitarist I listened to. As the years have gone by, I
have heard many players with richer ideas and better technique, but in my
book, no one ever will swing like him—his playing is so full of life, and
it has an irrepressible joy that is unique.
I used to notice that when Herb played, he would move his mouth—but wasn’t
really singing–as he improvised. I could never figure out what he was
doing, until in the late 1970s, when I watched him conduct a class for a
roomful of young guitarists. Someone asked him about his choice of scales
and modes, etc. “Do you use the augminished Hungarian? The Neopolitan mode?
With the raised 9th and the drunk 5th?”
I can’t remember the exact wording of the question, or his exact words in
reponse, but essentially, he simply said this:
“Play like you are singing.”
It suddenly clicked. When I was watching Herb move his mouth while he was
playing, he was “singing” through his guitar. Here’s a very simple way to
determine if your improvising is getting anywhere. Sing—or at least, imagine
yourself singing—what you have just played. Go back to my analogy. Are you
running your mouth, or are you making sentences? If we go with that a bit
further, substitute the words “a scale” for “the words” you have learned to
speak in the new language. Now, are you merely running up and down the
scale, or are you creating phrases? If you are doing the former, you
aren’t really doing anything except playing notes in a scale. If you are
doing the latter, then you are creating musical “sentences”—in other words–
singing. That is the first step—and the most important—to becoming an