The Gig As A Teaching Tool And Evading The Black Hole

My relationship to gigging has changed a lot over the years.

For many years, a gig to me was only as good as what I played.   If I didn’t feel I played well, then the gig was bad and if I played well then the gig was good.   During that time, at best, I didn’t feel that I played any gig particularly well.

Mostly I would just beat myself up after a gig and disparage what I did as a musician and as a human being.  Because (the faulty logic went) if the gig sucked then I sucked at the gig and if I sucked at a gig then I must suck as a guitarist – and how could that be after all the time put into it to not suck?

That’s an amateur view of gigging.  It took me a while to realize  I was using bad logic and taking the wrong lesson away from what I was doing.  (You can read another post of mine here that goes into much more depth about the amateur mindset and how to discard it.)

All guitarists still play mediocre gigs….it’s just that great guitarists play them less often, and a great guitarist’s mediocre gig is still at a higher level than a great gig played by an okay guitarist.   Additionally, professional guitarists disconnect from gigs when they’re done.  They might struggle after the gig, but they let things go because there’s another gig on the horizon to focus on.

But mostly what changed my relationship to gigging was the audience.

I started realizing that my own self assessment was really secondary to what the audience got out of it.  If I didn’t care about what the audience got out of it, then there was no point in playing to an audience.

The weird thing is that the audience got VERY different takes on the gigs than I typically did.  The gigs I hated were gigs the audience members often dug… and he gigs I liked?  By and large the audience was apathetic.  Eventually – between the audiences assessment and my assessment – I learned how to really gauge the temperature of the gig and how it really went.

The real question here is – Why does that matter?

If you’re asking yourself that question to puff yourself up and convince yourself how great you are, being able to gauge the success of the gig is not helpful at all.

For me, the importance is that being able to gauge what happened more objectively is an opportunity to learn.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  What should I do again?  For the things that didn’t work, how can I prepare myself better to get a better result?  As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Case in Point:

Last night I played a benefit gig at a place called the Linda in Albany, NY.  It’s the performance arts studio for WAMC radio and a very cool venue with a great staff and cool eclectic booking.  We were playing a benefit for WAMC with three other bands.  Our soundcheck was scheduled for 5.  Doors were at 7.  We got there early but assumed we’d probably soundcheck at 5:30.

The Linda had put a new sound system in that day that they were trying out so the staff had already been on hand for most of the day.  Two of the groups were going to use a backline (i.e. have guitar and bass amps and a common drum kit for use by multiple bands) to save time both in sound checking and switching between bands.  We got there around 4:45 and soundcheck was running behind.  The two bands before us had a number of things that had to be checked and we ended up loading our stuff onstage to soundcheck at about 6:45.

So the event began with a little stress but, truth be told, most events work on a “Wait – wait – now Hurry UP!” cycle.  We got our things on stage and worked out a few things with percussion mics and ended up running a few bars of a few tunes.  The house sound is LOUD and the monitors in front of me are on the brink of feeding back.  The tone I hear coming back at me is MEGA treble so I try to adjust with my own eq but its still jarring to me and LOUD.    I ask to be pulled out of the monitor directly in front of me as  I figured I could just use the house sound as a monitor if need be.

We left the stage around 7:10 – feeling really bad that this essentially screwed Bryan Thomas, the opening act, out of any kind of a proper soundcheck.  We talked to him as he was setting up and he said he can work around it (and he certainly did – Bryan pulled off a really cool loop based solo singer set)!  We then walked over to Van’s (a great Vietnamese restaurant in Albany) to get some pho before the set, and literally get back for the last tune of Bryan’s set and then have to load on.

While we were gone, unbeknownst to me, the overall house sound system volume dropped.  We got on stage, said a quick introduction and launched into the first tune.

At this point I couldn’t really hear myself so I started picking harder.  A lot harder.  Like bluegrass hard.  It was way too much excess tension and my hands were not responding the way I wanted them to.  We get through the piece.

The audience applauds and I introduce the next tune.  We only have a 1/2 hour and have already cut one tune from the set to get in under the time limit so (in a bad judgement call) I’m more focused on trying to get through the gig than taking the 30 seconds it would take to fix the problem.  Tune 2 – my hands are not responding at all the way I want them to.  I’m playing and they’re losing synchronization.  At this point, I become mindful of the fact that in addition to being too tense that I also have some adrenaline going and that’s pushing me beyond what I should be doing – hence the lack of synchronization.  I take micro breaks where I can to make sure I can pull off the unison line at the end.  We get through it.  The audience applauds again.  I take a breath and address the issues.

I try to joke with the audience to build rapport and keep them engaged.  I ask for some of myself back into the monitor.  Tune 3 is a slower tune.  I scale back and try to play less and continue to rest my hands where I can.  I try to balance being engaged with the music with doing what I need to do to technically get through the gig.  We get through the rest of the set.  It’s not one of my better performances – but it’s the best I can do in the situation.

I’m bummed because I know that this performance is being recorded for a future broadcast and I’m not super psyched about all of my mistakes being experienced over and over again but on the plus side, the audience is awesome.  They’re kind and super receptive, really giving us something back and really digging what what we’re doing.  The Linda staff is great and super supportive and John Chiara did a great job We make some new fans and some new friends.

I don’t play particularly well – but it’s a good gig for us.

This is one of those situations where my problem easily could have easily trainwrecked the gig.  You ever have that moment where you wake up and something bad happens when you get out of bed and that sets off a whole series of chain reactions in place (like tripping over a laundry hamper, cutting yourself shaving and/or burning yourself with spilled coffee)?  I call that entering the black hole.  Once you get sucked into a bad moment, it’s easy to get caught in the inertia of that energy (the  gravitational pull of the black hole) and just have compounding errors that spiral out of control.

There are two ways out of the black hole – and both involve mindfulness.

1.  Don’t go into the black hole.  If things go wrong, be aware of what’s happening and make mild adjustments and try to stay on course.

2.  If mistakes are compounding – take a breath.  Observe what is going on and make necessary corrections to get back on track.

This doesn’t come naturally.  You can’t learn it in a practice room by yourself.  The only way to be able to do this mid-gig is through a lot of practice and (un)fortunately, I’ve had numerous opportunities to practice this in a live setting.

Gigs are valuable opportunities to gain insights about what you do and the best ways to do it and (without getting to wu-wu here) no matter how many gigs you play, you will always learn something if you’re ready for the lesson.

As always, I hope this helps!

Thanks for reading.


The 4 Steps To Getting A Gig

Recently I had an experience that may be of interest to beginning players out there.  Conversely, I think that these are the same steps that are taken in taking on any new project or endeavor so this can be adapted to getting a job, or any other collaborative process.

The Gig

I was asked if I’d participate in a local production of a new play.  I knew the director and knew that he did really great work and said I’d be happy to help out.

Step 1.  Have a skill set and Be seen.

People need to know who you are and know what you do in order to know to contact you.  This also means that you need to know people in your area.

The director asked me to show up and meet with himself and the playwright.  I did so.  He informed me that another musician was coming who would also be working on the production.

While we sat there drinking tea.  We talked about the project. I talked about how we could use sound and the roles of everyone there.  The other musician never showed.

Step 2.  Show Up / Follow Through / Don’t Flake

This is the biggest step.   I can’t tell you the number of people who loose gigs because they just don’t show up.

A lot of it is people psyching themselves out and thinking they don’t have the skills, so they won’t get the gig so why bother?

Here’s a tip – no one ever feels 100% ready.  Show up anyways as prepared as you can be and do what you do at the highest level you can.  Then at least you won’t spend years later living in regret wondering what could have happened.

This advise is closely followed by – show up on time.  Consider this quote from Anthony Bourdain:

Show up on time. I learned this from the mentor who I call Bigfoot in Kitchen Confidential. If you didn’t show up 15 minutes exactly before your shift, if you were 13 minutes early, you lost the shift, you were sent home. The second time you were fired. It is the basis of everything. I make all my major decisions on other people based on that. Give the people that you work with or deal with or have relationships with the respect to show up at the time you said you were going to. And by that I mean, every day, always and forever. Always be on time. It is a simple demonstration of discipline, good work habits and most importantly respect for other people.

(You can read the entire interview here and this is perhaps the only time in my life I will link to Men’s Journal magazine).

So while we were waiting and discussing the overview, the director suddenly said, “Ok it’s almost 6 o’clock – Did you bring a guitar?  Are you ready?”

“No I didn’t bring a guitar.  I thought we we’re just talking.  Am I ready for what?”

“Are you ready to meet with the cast?  I want you to meet with them before I cast them and have them all in a room for rehearsal”


We walked downstairs to the studio and there was a group of 14 people there.  I was introduced to the cast and then given the floor.

Step 3  – Work WITH people, Adapt and Do You

When thrown into situations like this, I’ve found that you just have to adapt to the needs of the people you’re working with and then work with the skills you have.  Since the play was about a Liberian child soldier, I felt that percussion was going to be a key element in the production.  I moved out some tables and then had people step in time and perform interlocking rhythms based on some West African drum patterns that I learned and adapted them to the situation to see where the actor’s rhythmic skills were.

Then I had them hold pitches and move them around to a few different chords so se where their ears were.

The whole thing was over in about 15 minutes.  The atmosphere in the room was electric.  They were psyched about what we were doing.

A day later, I was listed as the musical director for the production.

Step 4 – Do The Work

This is what separates the professionals from the amateurs of the world.

  • Professionals develop a set of skills and understand what those are.
  • Professionals show up.
  • If they know what they’re showing up to – they prepare for it as best they can as time allows.
  • If they don’t know what they’re showing up to – they adapt their strengths to the situation at hand.
  • Once professionals get the gig – they keep it by doing the work the gig requires.  If they need additional skills – they develop them to the point that they need to.  The professional  guitarist who plays well but needs to sing backup for the gig will shed those vocal parts as much as needed to keep that gig.

That’s it for now!

I have more shows with KoriSoron coming up in the area and we’re going to be doing some videos for our good friends at ZT Amps.  You can check out all of our comings and goings at

As always – Thanks for reading!


New Guit-A-Grip Post Music – Business Podcast and KoriSoron Shows

New Guit-A-Grip Post and Podcast

Kate Bush

Some music business material went up on the Guit-A-Grip site.  Did you know that 35 years after her last performance, that Kate Bush’s recent return to the stage was SO successful that it drove EIGHT of her albums into the top 40 charts?  You can read about that (and how you might be able to use that information here).

Developing Your Business Plan

(From the Guit-A-Grip site)

“This summer I had the opportunity to get involved with the BuckMoon Arts Festival which was held at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, NY.  One of the ideas I had was to create workshops for artists in the area who were looking for ways to monetize their income.  The workshop idea was replaced with a panel discussion with the purpose of utilizing some of the artists and professionals we had access to.  This made for some great discussions and interactions throughout the day.

This podcast is from the “Developing Your Business Plan” panel with panelists Mike DiminYvonne Lieblein and Mark Swain.  The event description was “The business of art – Setting up your business, creating a business plan and building your team.” but it went into a lot of different areas.  If you’re interested in developing your art as a business, you might be interested to listen to hear how these people are already doing it!”

More Things KoriSoron Soft Launch

KoriSoron (my duo acoustic international instrumental project with Farzad Golpayegani) has a twitter feed, and a ReverbNation page and a YouTube page.

Upcoming shows:

We DO have more shows coming up as a direct result of this one:

  • Friday, September 12th 2014 – Moon and River Cafe, 115 S. Ferry St. Schenectady, NY – KoriSoron plays 2 sets of international instrumental music at 8PM and 9PM.  While most of our music is composed there’s a lot of improvisation in the set as well so
  • Thursday, September 18th 2014 – Proctor’s GE Theatre, Schenectady, NY Festival Cinema Invisible‘s kick off event for their 2014-2015 Invisible Film series is going to be fantastic night!  A $10 ticket gets you into a screening of a rarely seen film from Iran, “Common Plight”, a Q & A with the film’s producer Mahmood Karimi-Kakak Persian style tea and delicious sweets from Schenectady’s own Persian Bite restaurant, and a performance from KoriSoron!  Full information about the event is here.  Tickets can be purchased online here.
  • Thursday, September 25th 2014 – Bombers Burrito Bar, 2 King Street Troy, NY as part of the CUR518 local music showcase series.  We play with Groovestick and Dylan Storm and the whole night runs from 8-11!
  • Saturday, November 1st 2014 – Fundraiser for Amsterdam Public Library in Amsterdam, NY. Three sets of music!!!!  No information on the library website yet but the library link is here.

And more shows coming up in October and November while we prep for a new recording.

Mas Music:

Also more details as they become available, but Farzad and I are going to be composing and performing the score for a new theatrical work called Child Soldier this fall at Sienna College called.  More details as that emerges.

As always thanks for reading!


Guitar-Muse Interview With Steve Vai And Gig, Post And Kindle Updates

Hey everyone!


Steve Vai Interview

My interview with Steve Vai is now up on Guitar-Muse.  You can read it here.  I’ve also posted a short lesson on rhythmic ear training that uses one of the new tracks as the basis for the lesson (copyright prohibits me from posting the actual notes – but it’s a good primer on how to figure out syncopated rhythms).  You can read that post here


Today’s Children of Mu Gig Is Rescheduled

The gig with Justin Wierbonski’s “Miles Davis Bitches-Brew era” group Children of Mu next Thursday is still happening but since today’s gig at the Shrine was double booked, it’s now been postponed until next Saturday evening.  

The rest of the band can’t make it so next Saturday’s show is going to be a drum guitar duo – but it’s going to be more free-form Jazz Sabbath (HA!)  and not at all “The Girl from Ipanema”!!

Forecast for next Saturday evening in Harlem –  high note density mixed with sporadic ambient textures with a chance of attendance.  Here are the dates for next week.



THURSDAY, JULY 12, 2012 – 9PM



Saturday, JULY 14, 2012 (time is evening TBA)


An Immodest Proposal Part II…

will be up on Monday and some people are likely to find it provocative.

In other post news, I do have some lessons to go up on the site over the next few weeks and I’ve been working on the Kindle book which I hope to have done by the end of the month.

Player profiles are on tap for Guitar-Muse in July and August and some cool interviewees in the pipeline in a “guitars of the underground series.”


Ah “Hot Town, summer in the city!”

Stay cool and thanks for reading.


Putting The Trio In Rough Hewn Trio Or Some Upcoming Shows

We’ve booked a couple of shows around Chris’ summer tour with Martin Fabricius and Craig’s ongoing tour of regional correctional facilities.


In chronological order:


  • Saturday, April 30 · 2:00pm – 3:00pm UC Irvine, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Winifred Smith Hall – 4002 Mesa Road – Irvine, CA – iPhone Not Required (but bring’m if you got’m) i.e. Lavender’s Grad Recital
  • Friday, May 27 – Tribal Café – 1651 West Temple Street Los Angeles, CA 90026-5026 (213) 483-4458
    Yes Memorial Day Weekend.  No – we’re not sure who’s going to be in town to be there. Yes it will be awesome. Starts at 7:30 – bands TBA
  • Friday, July 15th – Tribal Café (Do you see a trend here) Starts at 7:30 – bands TBA

Here’s the info for the Irvine show from Chris.  This is going to be a really cool recital that will feature audience members playing with the band using Chris’ Thumbafon iphone ap.


iPhone Not Required (but bring’m if you got’m)


Saturday, April 30 · 2:00pm – 3:00pm

UC Irvine, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Winifred Smith Hall

4002 Mesa Road

Irvine, CA

This is the penultimate performance of my graduate work, which is centered around the investigation of using mobile devices as a means toward audience collaborated performance. It’s an epic social/musical experiment* that YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS!

Performance starts at 2pm.

Checkout for information on the iPhone App which will be used during the performance.

Featuring the Rough Hewn Trio”

Finally if you want to get a sense of the mellower side of our ensemble:



Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 3

I took the wrong weekend to sleep in!  Guitar Squid distributed a link to part one of the post and by the time I got to check my stats for the weekend I had already missed my record keeping days.

However, you got here – welcome.

In the previous posts (part 1 and part 2), I talked about deciphering chord symbols and developing shortcuts for playing them.  In this post I’m going to talk about my approach and  how I ended up reading the chart.


One final time – here’s the 232 chart with upper extension triads written in:


Full Triadic Substitutions / Shortcuts

Here’s an mp3 of the track.  This was recorded with an FnH Ultrasonic recorded directly into AU Lab with PodFarm 2.0 @ 44.1.  The goal was an ambient wash of sound but in retrospect, I should have gone with a longer delay time/wetter reverb to hold the sustain.

Here’s the PodFarm Patch:

Here’s Bar 1 of the chart:

232 Measure 1


  • Simple is better.  I usually start with 3-4 note voicings and then add from there on subsequent passes.
  • I chose the F minor chord in the first position to make the C in the chart the top note of the voicing (and thus accent the melody) – this kept my initial focus on voicings primarily on the D, G and B strings.
  • I added the bass note on the E and A strings so I could get a little more of the chord texture.
  • On the B minor 11 chord, I made some alterations on the fly.  To get the melody note on top of the voicing I doubled the 11 (E on the 5th fret).  Technically this isn’t a minor 11 chord as there’s no 3rd – but in this case Chris was playing the full voicing anyway, so I’m just adding texture.  Depending on what the bass was doing on the second pass I would probably add the 3rd of the chord (D) on the 5th fret of the A string.
  • The 3rd and 4th chords follow a similar pattern so I used the same voicing.
  • I decided to drop down to 1st position for the last chord to get some low-end emphasis.  I’d probably add some harp harmonics as well.
  • The same voicings and approach are used in Bar 2.


Bar 2

232 Measure 2

Bars 3-4

232 Measures 3-4


  • A 9 (sus4) – This went to g,b and e strings to facilitate the melody note.  With the kind of ambient swell sounds that I used – muting the strings with the pick hand between chord changes becomes important to maintain smooth delay.
  • Bb Maj 9 – Here I was actually thinking Dm 7/Bb.  So I’m just using the top notes of the voicing.
  • E min 9 – This is a stock A string minor 9 voicing I use.  I have a couple of these for E and A strings I throw in when I need to.
  • F#9 (sus 4) – E maj/F# voicing based off of a VII position E barre chord.
  • G maj 9  – I was thinking B min but then added the A on the 10th fret for the melody and the G on the A string for the root.
  • C#min 9 – I moved the melody up an octave on the last 3 chords to amp up the arrangement.  Stock E string rooted voicing.  Sometimes I’d play the B on the D string and sometimes not.
  • D Maj 9 – Variation on the C#min9 shape – 2 useful voicings to have at your disposal.
  • E9 sus 4 – Just kept the D Maj 9 voicing, added the F# on the top string and played the low octave E.  I addition to filling out the chord the voicing puts me in a good spot space wise if we decide to repeat bars 1-4.


This has been a long series of instruction for a pretty simple chord chart, but the purpose of it was to detail the process behind those short cuts.  It might seem long and involved – but it gets easier over time.  In reality – the voicings took about a minute to suss out.


I hope this helps!  Please feel free to reply here or send an email to with any other questions you might have about this.


Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 2

In the previous getting through the gig post, I talked about how to interpret chord symbols to determine what a song is asking for.  Today, I’m going to use upper structure triads (triads built on chord tones other than the root) to simplify the chart.  If you’re unfamiliar with the chord symbols below, you may want to start with Part 1 of this lesson.

This lesson will continue to use the  232 chart used in part 1.


(232 © Chris Lavender 2011 used with permission)


For now – let’s assume that you know how to play at least some major and minor triad shapes.  (If you didn’t take my advice to review the triadic inversions at the end of  the last post – you may want to do so now.)


Getting through the Charts part 1 – Unfamiliar and familiar

When sight-reading a chart, my goal isn’t neccessarilly to have a brilliant interpretation playing it the first time (although if I can make it better – great) . I just want to make sure that I’m playing the chords as written and then try to adapt it to the song.  So if I have stock voicings at my fingers for chords on the chart and they make sense, I’ll play those and then voice lead or tailor the approach from there.

Let’s assume for a moment that it’s a worse case scenario – you’re given this chart to play and all of these chords are alien to you.


Step 1:

Look for common chord types.

In this case, there are only a few different types of chords in the piece:

  • major9 #11
  • minor 11,
  • 9sus4,
  • major 9 and
  • minor 9.

If generic voicings can be developed they can just be moved to the roots of the chords that need to be played.


Step 2:

Convert to the key of C and figure out the chord formula.

The reason to convert to the key of C – is that the lack of sharps or flats in the key signature makes it easy to alter chord formulas as need be.

Here are the chords in question in the key of C:

C major9 #11:  C, E, G, B, D, F# (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, #11)

C minor 11:  C, Eb, G, Bb, D, F (1, b3, 5, b7, 9, 11)

C 9sus4: C, F, G, Bb, D,  (1, 4, 5, b7, 9)

C major 9: C, E, G, B, D (1, 3, 5, 7, 9)

C minor 9: C, Eb, G, Bb, D (1, b3, 5, b7, 9)


Step 3:

Focus on the upper notes (7, 9, 11, 13) of the voicing (and/or any alterations) and make a short cut:


This process assumes that there’s a bass player who will be playing the root.  You also loose the 3rd in the voicing, but you can always add the root, 3rd or any other chord tone  in later. The initial step is to just get through the chart, and then spruce it up as you gain familiarity.


In the C major9 #11, the upper notes are the 7, 9 and #11 (B, D, F# ) this is a B minor triad with a C in the bass (also written B min/C).


The shortcut here is –

if you play a minor triad a ½ step down from the root

you’ll have the upper extension of the major 9 #11 chord.

Here are the transposed voicings

Gb major 9 #11 = F minor/Gb

A major 9 #11 = G# minor/A

F major 9 #11 = E minor/F

C major 9 #11 = B minor/E

D major 9 #11 = C# minor/D

Bb major 9 #11 = A minor/Bb

Here they are penciled into the chart:

Maj. 9 sharp 11 Shortcut


I’m going to into specific voicings in the third and final post – the idea here is to just to document how to figure out some basic chord substitutions.  While I haven’t written in the bass note (i.e. Gb major 9 #11 = F minor/Gb  – written on the chart as simply Fm), the bass note is still in the original chord voicing, so I can work it into the tonic as necessary.

In the C minor 11, the upper notes are the b7, 9 and 11 (Bb, D, F) this is a Bb major triad with a C in the bass (also written B/C).


The shortcut here is –

if you play a major triad a step down from the root

you’ll have the upper extension of the minor 11 chord.

Here are the transposed voicings:

B minor 11 = A/B

C# minor 11 = B/C#

E minor 11 = D/E

Gb minor 11 = Fb(E)/Gb

and applied to the chart:

Minor 11 Triadic shortcuts


Next, let’s look at the 9 sus4 chord

C 9sus4: C, F, G, Bb, D,  (1, 4, 5, b7, 9)

Here the upper extensions are the b7, 9 and the added sus4 (Bb, D, F)

The real difference between the C9 Sus4 and the C minor 11 is the Eb.


The shortcut here is –

if you play a major triad a step down from the root

you’ll also have the primary tones of the 9sus4 chord.

Here are the transposed voicings:

A9 sus 4 = G/A

F#9 sus 4 = E/F#

E9 sus 4 = D/E

and applied to the chart:

9 sus 4 Triadic Shortcuts


For 11 and 13th chords, I tend to think in terms of  triads based on the 7th or the 9th.  Major and Minor 9th chords can be seen as triads starting from the 5th (but I usually see them as 7th chords from the 3rd – more on that in part 3 of these posts).


Major 9th shortcut –

if you play a major triad chord a 5th up from the root

you’ll have the upper extension of the major 9th chord.


Here are the transposed voicings:

C major 9: C, E, G, B, D (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) = G/C

Bb major 9 = F/Bb

G major 9 = D/G

D major 9 = A/D

and applied to the chart:

Major 9th Triad Shortcuts


Minor 9th shortcut –

if you play a minor triad a 5th up from the root

you’ll have the upper extension of the minor 9th chord.


Here are the transposed voicings:

C minor 9: C, Eb, G, Bb, D (1, b3, 5, b7, 9)  = G Minor

Emin9 = B min/E

C#min9 = G# min/ C#

And the big reveal or…



Okay here’s the initial chart again:


and here’s the modified chart with triadic substitutions written in (click on the chart to see it full-sized).


Full Triadic Substitutions / Shortcuts


Which do you find easier to read chord-wise?


“Hey take a solo…”

As an additional bonus to this approach, these upper extension triads can also be approached as arpeggios that can be played over each chord for soloing or as a simpler tonal center for chord scales (just realize that not all chord scales that work for the upper extension triad will work for the initial chord – but experiment and use your ear to guide you for what works.)

In the final post of this series, I’ll show how I ended up voicing the tune.

Thanks for reading!


Surviving The Gig

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had the opportunity to play a lot of different styles of music in a number of bands.  In terms of gig referrals, this has pluses and minuses.  In the plus category, when someone needs Frisell-ish textural guitar on one tune, post-tonal shred on another and fretless on a third – I’m on a short list of players that people call.  On the minus side, for generic guitar needs (“We need a (rock, jazz, blues, etc) guy for this track”, other people who specialize in that type of vibe will often get the call.

If you have a stylized sound you’ll get calls for some gigs, but to keep working, you’ll also need a generic enough skill set that you can cover other things if you have to.


Each band I’ve played in has had different challenges to approaching material, but there are two general points of emphasis I’ve come across.  The situations all call for quality, but depending on the quantity, quality may be a very relative term.

How To Learn 110 Songs In 6 Days

Years ago, I had a gig opportunity open up for me when I was living in Boston.   A friend of mine on faculty at Berklee gave me a call  to see if I wanted to take over what we in Boston called a GB (General Business) gig.

GB gigs are typically weddings, corporate gigs or something similar.  The emphasis on these gigs isn’t to make a big spectacle.  Your job is to provide some background entertainment and stay out of the way of the function as much as possible.

The gig pay wasn’t great but there was a challenge that I couldn’t pass up.  I’d have to learn five one-hour sets of music (110 songs) in a week. The songs were mostly covers (60’s to top 40 in scope), and while I had heard most of them, I didn’t know any of them.  There were also at least six originals that I needed to learn as well.

I’ve always liked challenges so I said, “Sure! Let’s see how it goes.”  I got through the gig and ended up making money playing with the band for the better part of a year.  So here’s what I learned.

  • Have a game plan.  Since the gig was in 6 days time, in reality I needed to learn all of the songs in 5 days and would possibly be able to carve out some time to run trouble spots in the 6thday.  Since some of the songs were ones I had already heard a lot, I worked on the assumption that figuring them out would not take a lot of time.

    I started with a plan of getting down 20-30 songs a day (depending on how long it took to learn them.)  The gig itself was only 4 hours, but I wanted to at least have gone through all the tunes in case people called them out.

  • Start with the hardest and/or most unfamiliar tunes first.  They’ll be the longest one’s to get into your head (or your fingers) and if you start them first you’ll be able to review them each day while you work on new material.
  • Top priorities:  PRIMARY SONG elements (the key, main riffs, chord progression and song form).  Day tripperwon’t fly if no one’s playing the opening riff.  The focus here is essentials.Here’s the question to ask when determining essentials.  If the tune was being played as a duo with you and a vocalist, would someone recognize the song?
  • Secondary priorities:  Is there a signature solo?  Are there specific rhythm parts that you need to copy or will generic voicings do?  Are there specific timbral elements unique to the song?  If you’re playing Purple Rain, you better have a chorus or a flange and the right rhythm (and voicings) or it ain’t going to fly.
  • Take notes.  There’s no shame in a messy set list.  I had crib notes everywhere for the gig.  Usually this was just a reminder of what key the song was in and some short notes on progressions on song form

    (i.e  “song x” –

    G (This indicated the key)

    unison intro (just a reminder)

    3rd chorus solo.

    The point was to just have enough notes to jog my memory about the tune.  Unfamiliar tunes had some more detailed notes like chord progressions written in (like a verse or a chorus).

  • Smaller is better and stay flexible.  Tone wise you should have 2-3 primary tones (clean, dirty and lead) that you can tweak to get close to the song.  If you have patches for every single tune, it’s going to fall apart.  I did this gig with a Pod 2.0, pedal switcher and a fender amp.  I never used more than 5 settings.  Part of this is to know your sounds and get close rather than perfect.  Having said that, this rule changes if you’re in a tribute band.  If you’re playing in an Ozzy Tribute band for example, then you better plan on having every tone identical, every lick and every solo note for note.  In gigs like this, the goal is to get it close enough that it doesn’t draw attention to what it is, namely a cover band instead of the real thing.
  • Take lots of breaks.  You’re going to need to stay focused for something like this so plan on taking frequent breaks to recharge and come back to it fresh.
  • Play with good musicians because they will save you.  While the music we were playing wasn’t my favorite, the musicians were very good and had the tracks down cold.  If everyone knew the tunes at the shallow level that I did, we wouldn’t have played the gig nearly as well as we did.  Additionally, since the keyboardist/vocalist and other vocalist knew a ton of tunes, if a request came up and I didn’t know it they could generally do a stripped down version of it as a duo.
  • Be professional.  This is really right next to musicality in importance if you want to gig consistently.  People who show up late, drunk, unprepared, or not at all are people I’ve never seen on a stage more than once.  Gigs are stressful enough that people don’t want to have to worry about you.  Make sure that you’re not part of any problems that come up.
  • Finally, no one wants to work with a jerk.  I don’t care how brilliant a musician you are, it doesn’t mean much if you’re a crappy human being.   This doesn’t mean that you have to suppress your strong opinions and kowtow to everyone around you but it does mean that you’re not the only person at any gig and there’s no reason to act that way.

As general advice, what this really speaks to is the depth of which you know (or need to know) something.   I saw the movie Rock Band again recently and there’s a funny scene early on in the film where Mark Wahlburg’s character stops a band rehearsal over a small discrepancy in a performance and I laughed because I’ve been in situations where rehearsals stopped because I threw a fret hand slide in somewhere or where days were lost because I was required to match tones exactly.  I’ll save that story for another time…

In the meantime – thanks for reading.


Warming Up: Finger Exercises, The 3 T’s And The Necessity Of Mistakes

Pedagogical Errors Were Made

One of the first lessons that guitar students are taught is the 1 note per fret 1-2-3-4 chromatic alternate picking exercise.  While this is typically presented  as an initial exercise to gain coordination – it has a very limited long run value.  As a static exercise, it  should be discarded from your regimen immediately because


you play what you practice

If you want to play semi-chromatic ideas at high speeds moving in 4ths – this is a great exercise to use.  But it’s a boring sound, a boring exercise and doesn’t translate well into everyday performance.

“But Scott”, you might posit, “it’s just  a warm up exercise.  It isn’t something to play at a gig.”  Then it’s a further waste of time as


everything you play should be something that translates to live performance


The Physicality Of Practicing or How To Lose A Gig

Here is a gig nightmare story that illustrates the point of proper technique versus strength.  Since the embarrassment here is all mine, all of the names will be on the record for my moment of shame.  Years ago when I was working at Sandy’s Music, one of my co-workers “Skinny Mike” Feudale wanted to see if I could play a gig with his rockabilly/psychobilly band – The Speed Devils. Mike is a great songwriter and the songs on the Speed Devil’s cd were really strong and lot of fun to play.  The Speed Devils had a gig come up in NY and needed a lead guitarist to sub in.  If it worked out – it could be a regular gig – but there were some rules.


1.  I had to look the part – fortunately the drummer Judd had a vintage bowling shirt I could squeeze into

2.  I had to play a vintage amplifier.  Fortunately I had just gotten my vintage Gibson amp back from Tom at AzTech electronics (truly an amazing amp guy) – which sounded and looked great.

3.  I had to play the Speed Devils guitar.  This was a hollow body that Mike had fixed up and completely vibed out (full flames and dice for volume knobs) with heavy gauge strings and high action to push the volume a little more.

We rehearsed the set once or twice and then went to the gig a couple of days later.

On the way from Boston to NY, I didn’t have time to warm up so I was doing some finger exercises to limber up my hands.  I was experimenting with a lot of grip master type things to strengthen my hands and try to fix my pinky (which was really quiet with hammer ons).  We got to the club and  I found out that there was no mike for my amp.  The only thing going through the PA was the vocals.

This is the point of the story that I should mention that while everything was fine when we had rehearsed at low volumes; my 15 watt amplifier could not compete with the rest of the band in a club setting.  As I was inaudible I started strumming louder, and with the live adrenaline kicking it, I started fretting harder as well.   Between the heavier string gauge, the higher action, the underpowered amp and the over-tensed playing- I blew my hands out by the second tune.

My hands were so shot that chording was difficult and soloing was all but impossible.  I limped through the rest of the performance – but nothing came out the way it was supposed to.  Needless to say, I didn’t get the gig – a sound decision by the band – but I was really angry with myself because I had unknowingly sabotaged myself before I even got there and had I taken a different approach – I would have been able to play the show much better and not let the band (and myself) down.


The Physicality Of Practicing (slight return)

Playing an instrument is a physical endeavour.  You can push your muscles too hard and hurt yourself badly playing the same things over and over. (Trust me – performance related injuries are not fun).

Having said that, this isn’t weightlifting.  You don’t need muscular hands capable of cracking walnuts to play guitar well – you need hands that can move  fingers quickly and independently –  a fast twitch muscle versus a slow twitch muscle. This leads to a little secret that students generally don’t get exposed to in rock guitar lessons


hammer on volume comes from the speed the fingers strike the string not the force

In terms of volume, the most problematic finger is typically the pinky.  One habit that I had to fix (and that I continue to see in a number of players) was the improper attack of the fret hand pinky on the strings. (In case you’re wondering about proper form, I’ve reposted some of the information from the Glass Noodles arpeggio post below).


Here’s a good way to visualize the fret hand finger motion you’re looking for:

Put the palms of your hands on a table.  Now without lifting the palms up, tap your fingertips one at a time on the table starting from the pinky and ending on the index.  You’ll notice that the fingers stay curved and that the large knuckle of each finger is responsible for the tapping.  This motion is what you’re looking for in this process.  Notice that you don’t need to hit the fingertips very hard against the table to get a crisp attack.

The concept of building up your hands like biceps – is just ridiculous.  The goal of guitar performance is to keep your hands relaxed so you don’t blow them out in a gig or on a session.


How I warm up now

When I warm up now – I play scales and arpeggios, switching between chord voicings of tunes I’m working on and improvising around various patterns at low tempos and paying strict attention to


The 3 T’s in Performance: Timing, Tone Production and Tension

(remember these – this awareness could save you untold time and pain later!)


In general –  you just want to make sure that all of your fingers have had a little blood flowing in them before you begin to play for any length of time.  I do this with a timer for 5 minutes (more or less depending on how my hands feel).

External warm up devices are kind of goofy to me.  Have you ever seen a runner go into a gym and max themselves out on a legpress before they went for a long run?  Do you really think that putting mechanized unfocused tension on a finger is going to make it play a musical passage more efficiently?


The necessity of making mistakes

Along with the forthcoming GuitArchitecture books, I have also put substantial time into  a general book of guitar technique.  In addition to discussing specifics of practice and performance methodology – I also took the 1-2-3-4 exercise and broke it down into every possible positional variation as a way to develop technique.  The book is currently 256 pages.  The majority of which are the 864 individual graphics that had to be created and placed in the text.

Midway through this process I started to question the mistake of basing any technical study on such an exercise – or the concept of musical exercises in general.  (Again the point isn’t to have svelte waistline or huge muscles – the point is to be able to play melodic and harmonic ideas more readily.)

I came to the conclusion that if the 1-2-3-4 example could be approached as a way to develop a systematic approach to generating both melodic ideas and melodic variation it could also benefit readers as a technical study as well.


Mistakes are teachable moments

It’s easy to see a mistake as something to learn from in a practice room session but harder to see it at a gig. If I walked away from the Speed Devils show and just said, “That gig sucked – so I must suck as a guitarist” I would have missed a great opportunity to see there was something very wrong in what I was doing. The gig taught me in addition to making sure that I had proper preparation and the right tools for the job that tension does not equal volume – and that lesson has been more beneficial to me than any lesson I could pay for.


I hope this is helpful to you!

Thanks for reading.


Rough Hewn Trio

I just wanted to take a second to announce a new project I’ve been working on with Chris Lavender  and Craig Bunch.  Rough Hewn Trio is a project that mixes through composed ideas with heavy doses of improvisation.

We have our first gig this Thursday @ CalArts where we’ll be accompanying Germaine Dulac’s La Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet) and Teinosuke Kinugasa’s  Brilliant “lost” film – Kurutta Ippeiji, (aka Page of Madness or Page out of order).

Craig and I have done a preliminary mix of some live recordings we’ve made – so we should have videos and mp3s up on a dedicated site soon with other novel things like an EPK and a bio.

Thanks for reading!  More info coming soon.