Pat Martino thinks WAY outside the box…

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…


Posted on February 28, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. My buddy Danny Gotham tried to leave a comment here, but it didn’t work. Here’s what he said:
    It’s well worth reading!
    “hey bud, i just tried to post this on your blog, but it didn’t take. if you want to put it up there, feel free. if not, that’s fine too. some rambling thoughts that came on after your post about pat martino. (bow down.)

    first off, you know how much i love PM. when i think of the jazz players that hit me really, REALLY hard? he’s in my top five, for sure. that “live” album that he released in the mid 1970s was akin to running into a brick wall at 80 mph. i couldn’t get enough of his playing. and his tone–for me–is still the gold standard.

    i don’t know a fraction of what he knows, nor do i come close to having his technique, but what he’s saying has permeated my own thinking and teaching pretty profoundly.

    one of the things that i remember him talking about was taking your guitar, and tuning it to different intervals. then play some standard fingering lines that come naturally to you. of course, now they sound completely different. then you transcribe these lines in regular tuning. that gets you outside of one of the many boxes that we all find ourselves.

    one thing that i have learned is that anything we learn on the guitar boils down to two “doors” to what we learn and play: the visual and the tactile. both of these have traps. here’s an example of a visual trap that i employ when i start teaching students CAGED constructs. i hold my fingers in a D major chord shape–but NOT ON THE GUITAR. most guitarists will recognize that combination of fingers, even when it’s not on the fretboard. point being that many players learn a chord as a specific fingering, as well as a specific group of notes. then i show them–on the fretboard–that if i play a D chord as part of the C shape, the fingering of those particular notes doesn’t look as familiar to them, and therefore, they have to break out of a preconceived visual references of what a chord “looks” like (there’s that visual trap.)

    the tactile traps are the same–most of us have fingerings that we do over and over and over again, simply because we’ve burned them into our brains. two of the best ways out of that trap (in addition to PM’s tips about re-tuning the guitar) is to adopt mick goodrick’s (another great player and teacher) suggestion to see melodic lines on only one string, and also…spend a lot of time listening to great slide players (derek trucks jumps to mind immediately). both of these learning tools make us simplify, simply because your are looking at melodic movement that can only by rendered by one note at a time. no speedy bursts. no lightning quick arpeggios. think about it–you can’t do it, because you are thinking one note at a time. it forces the player to think melodically because of the constraints of finger movement.

    now–as to the specific point about improvising “outside the box”–i’ve always maintained that ALL improvisation boils down to one fundamental tenet: tension and resolution. improvisation is not just about the notes that are being improvised–it’s about the interplay between the “bed” (the chords, and/or the overall key) and the notes that are played against it. i use a lot of visual metaphors when i teach this, and what i suggest is to think of the improvisation as a game of tetherball. the “pole” is the core–the key, the chords, whatever–it’s the basis for the improvisation. if the “pole” is a single note or a root and fifth–the improv can go virtually anywhere. but once it goes into triads and beyond, the tetherline on the ball gets a wee bit shorter.

    of course, as a player learns more and hears more–what “works” for an improvisation simply boils down to what the player hears as possible. it’s akin to discovering new colors.”

  2. For a couple of years now, I’ve been chewing on a concept I got from Pat Martino. It’s the special nature of diminished chords, which is this: by lowering any single note in a diminished chord 1/2 step, you get a dominant 7th. This way, a G# dim will become G7, Bb7, C#7 and E7. Exploring this on the guitar will lead you to find dominant 7ths all over the fingerboard. Conceptually, it can open up a number of areas, including how a dominant 7 b9 works, as well as how to modulate to a new key using a secondary dominant (although there are other ways to modulate). I think this concept of diminished chords can help you develop your own voice on the guitar, and as a composer and improviser, regardless of the instrument you play.

    • Hi, Pat, this post must have slipped between the cracks, because I only just now noticed and “approved” it…sorry bout the delay…

  3. Martino is incredible. Before I could easily track his music down, a long time ago (I lived in Alaska), I would read about him, his brain injuries and such. It was amazing stuff. When I finally heard him, things like ‘Footprints’ and ‘Cream’ really had me thinking about substitutions and how to experiment within melodies (to say nothing of the lickity-split flat-picking). The guy’s one-of-a- kind.

    Great blog…keep up the good work….

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