Motivation Is A Question Of “Why” Not “How”

Today I want to talk about a technique for understanding and focusing motivation but first…

The Obligatory Update

I have been remiss in posting here.  As I write this I’m taking a break from prep for a back to back recording session coming up on the 15th with I Come From the Mountains (a new duo acoustic instrumental ensemble with Dean Mirabito from KoriSoron playing an Iranian / Middle Eastern / Hindustani hybrid / fusion with me playing modified acoustic guitars (fretless, 10 string guitar modified from a 12 string and a 6-string multiple capos) and Dean playing  tabla and Middle Eastern percussion) and Embe Esti (a loosely Afrobeat inspired electric band with guitar, bass, drums and vocals that brings in a lot of North African and Balkan influences as well).  WOW is that an awkwardly long sentence!

( In a gear related note – with the exception of the fretless guitar –  all of the guitars and amps I’m using are from Yamaha – so Yamaha Guitars / Yamaha THR if you’re reading this and have any interest in sponsoring a future recording session please feel free to get in touch! ; )  I’ve been working with their THR100HD amp and have gotten some really great tones with minimal pedals  so I’ll share my different rigs with you in a future post).

So writing a lot of new material and developing new projects.  New websites for both soon!

The Best Free Lesson I Can Give You

If you go through old posts you’ll see that I hammer this point over and over again.

You have to have a why to travel any distance on the path to mastering guitar.

 

Here’s why this is important.  Let’s say you’re in a playing rut.  You keep playing the same thing over and over and don’t know how to get out.  You get motivated and sign up for a video course and give them your credit card number.  You log in the first day and start working on the first lesson.  In this case, you happened to go with a player you like but you didn’t understand that the material is way too hard to process at your current skill level.  So you work with it for about an hour and take a break for a bit…and then never come back to it.  Or you buy a book and it comes in the mail and you crack the cover and never return to it.

Does this sound familiar?

The problem most players face at some level is they don’t understand why they are doing what they’re doing.

As a beginning player:  if you don’t have a strong enough motivation you won’t play enough to develop the callouses you’ll need to play.

As an intermediate player: if you don’t have a strong enough motivation you won’t practice the things you need to work on to develop the skills you’ll need to progress to higher levels of expression.

As an advanced player: if you don’t have a strong enough why you may get to a point where you have developed a substantial skill set but can not earn a living from that skill alone.

This is kind of the mid-life crisis of guitar.  Fortunately, I’ve gone through many of these throughout my time playing guitar but players who have never faced can be in for a devastating experience .

See The “What” Is Easy

There’s 12 notes.  Simple.  You can get the basics of chords and scales in a day, grasp them more fully in a week and start to really do something with them in as little as a month if you really put the work in consistently.

The “How” Is Also (Relatively) Easy

When you buy an instructional product  what you’re buying is instruction on the how.  There is a literal deluge of instructional material both online and in print.   Even the most basic of searches will lead you to someone who can show you how.  The how is something that is also pretty easy to get under your fingers if you really put the work in consistently (and can be patient about how long it will take to do that work).

The “Why” Is Where You Are On Your Own

If you don’t have a reason for why you are doing what you are doing you won’t put the work in day after day and without that consistence – you will never progress.

Here’s the simple thing to do to get to the core of matter

When I teach a guitar lesson to a beginning student I will often attempt to drill down to what the motivating factors are by asking a series of “why” based questions.

Q: “So what brings you here today?”
A: “I want to learn how to play fast?”
Q: “Why?”
A: “Why what?”
Q: “Why do you want to learn to play fast?  What will playing fast allow you to do that you can’t do now?”

Based on the answer – this starts a series of drill downs of variations on the question to get to the bottom – why are you really here?  What are you really trying to do and most importantly, what is the real goal that you are working towards?

Playing fast isn’t a goal – it’s a pathway to a goal that might be better reached a thousand ways.  If the actual goal and motivation is understood it’s much easier to commit to putting the work in consistently to reach it.

Here’s a hypothetical non-musical example played out a little longer

“I want to exercise”
“Why?”
“So I can gain muscle”
“Why”
“So that I look better”
“Why?”
“So people will date me”
“Why?”
“So I’m not alone”

So in this example the exercise is in service to a larger goal – excising loneliness.

This process for me came about after years of me feeling guilty about going to Berklee and never really delving into jazz improv, only to dig deeper into why I thought I should be working on that and realizing I didn’t really like a lot of standards  I was pursuing it in a half-assed way because I thought it was a skill set I should have, but in reality the tunes never moved me so my motivation to work on them wasn’t there.  When I spent the time working on things that moved me emotionally, I got into more challenging music that required doing some of the work I didn’t want to do before because the context was one I wanted to explore.  So I kind of came to the same place through the back door…

Here’s the takeaway

If you have an issue with motivation, try diving deep with a series of “why” questions to get to what the underlying reason behind what you are doing really is.  Once you understand your real motivation, it’s easier to be more objective about how to best work towards realizing an associated goal.

I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

SC

 

Making A Longer Phase From A Few Notes

Just like Ratt – I’m back for more (hopefully you are also).

(Please feel free to insert another random hair metal reference if that suits you better).

I’m in the midst of a bunch of recording and gig preparation, and I thought one of the things I pulled out in a piece might help you.

I have an instrumental track that’s based on a pentatonic I’ve heard in Hindustani music before but don’t know the name of.  Other players have gravitated to this sound as well and in print I’ve only seen it listed as “Indian Pentatonic” (which, if we’re going to call it that, we might as well call it “Vindaloo” because vindaloo is at least tasty.)

Here’s the scale in A descending and then ascending.  Don’t let the time signature throw you off.  It’s just there to get all 5 notes in a bar.

A Pentatonic Asc Desc
In A  – I see R, 3, 4, 5 b7 (aka an A Mixolydian extraction) so this would work over chord taken from the parent scale D major.  In this case I’m using over a G – A vamp.

Start Small

Notice in the descending version I used one note on the B string and then 3 on the G string.  I do this because keeping only one note of the scale on the middle string of a 3 string group (in this case E, B, G) allows me to set up a sweepable version of the scale.

Why do I do that?

Here’s a little secret about guitar.  Certain techniques will take you a VERY long time to get under your fingers so if you’re going to spend the time to work on them make sure you find ways to use them to get the sounds you’re looking for.

Here I’ve taken the ascending scale and added 2 descending notes.  I’ve included 2 picking variations in the first two examples.  In my own playing I find that I end up going to the first Down Up Up pattern more often than not – but it’s worth the time to be able to do both of them.

For the example below – choose ONE picking variation and use it for all the groups of notes.  Pay attention to the 3 T’s (Timing, Tone and Hand Tension) and try playing it over a chord to associate the scale with a harmony.

A Pent 3 Note Sweeps

You might notice in the example that the E string always uses the index finger of the fretting hand and the G string always uses the pinky.  That leaves either the 2nd or 3rd finger for the B string note.  The fingering consistency also makes it easier to memorize the patterns.

Then build up

A Pent 5 Note

Now I’ve added a few notes on the G string.  One nice thing about Pentatonics is that they have some built in intervals larger than a major or minor 2nd that make them sound less “scale-ish” to my ears.  I’ve only included one picking idea above.  The 2-note sweep in the middle with the alternating picking would allow you to repeat the picking pattern, but you could also use pull-offs on the notes on the G string.

If the scale can descend on the G string – it can also ascend on the E string.  Here’s a two bar lick based on the idea above and adding in some notes on the E string as well.

A Pent Descending Line

Let’s Break This Down

A Pent Breakdown
I’ve broken this down in overlapping phrases to show how I expanded the initial idea into something larger.

Bar 9 Above:  This is a simple descending / ascending of the scale on the E string

Bar 10: There’s the sweep

Bar 11: This is a similar 7-note descending / ascending idea as bar 9

Bar 12-13: I broke this out to show the position shift to add the C# again with a similar idea as bar 9 and 11

Bar 14: There’s the sweep again

Bar 15: this is an the same idea as before but one octave lower.

Notice how there are two simple pieces of “connective tissue” the sweep and the short one string scale passage that ties the lick together.

Let’s look at another (and more challenging) idea:

Lick #2

A Pent Lick 2

Here I expanded on the initial idea.  I’m using sextuplets now so it’s faster.  In the first measure – there’s a slight pause on the last A in beat 3 to accommodate a position shift for the following beat.  As a phrase, I’d likely sit on that A for a beat or two before continuing but I shortened the time to fit it in a smaller graphic.

The position shift allows me to set up a sequence to ascend the scale again and build a little excitement.  Technically this uses all the ideas that have already been used.

Again – these techniques take time to get them under your fingers so they sound good.  Don’t take shortcuts.  Really focus on the 3 T’s and then find ways to incorporate them in ideas you already are using.

And one for the road

So far in this lesson we’ve been exploring string ascending / descending scales.  Adding in things like string skipping will give you some wider intervals to incorporate and get you further away from the scale sound.  Here’s one variation below.

Idea 3

My suggestions (should you choose to take them)

  • Find fingerings that work for you
  • incorporate some of the scale sequence ideas into the phrases you create
  • mix and match see how far you can go in one direction or the next before you run out of notes
  • incorporate different scale sequence ideas.  (For more information on this my Melodic Patterns book can open some doors here).

 

I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

-SC

What Scale Do I Use?

Well…

 

Yep – It’s been a while.  A lot’s gone on.   These posts take quite a while to do so I need to either figure out a way to make them MUCH shorter or just post more sporadically.  I had a couple of free hours this AM so here we go!  Let’s get to something you might be able to use.

A lot of times in lessons, I get asked some variation of the question,

“What should I play over this or that chord?”

 

For example, here’s a question I answered on Facebook  a while back and I thought that the answer for approaching any kind of unfamiliar chord might help some of you.

“hi folks!Cmaj7b9#11 what scale can i use???????”

Here’s how I approach unfamiliar chords and it may help you:

  •  If I don’t recognize the chord – I recommend CONVERTING to the key of C.  The reason for this is the key of C has no sharps or flats so any chord formulas become easier to figure out.  In this case we’re already in C (C maj7 b9 #11).

 

  • Make sure you understand the chord. The chord is C maj7 b9 #11. The major 7th chord formula is Root (C), 3rd (E), 5th (G), 7th (B).  On top of that we’re adding a b9 (Db) and a #11 (F#).  Lets find a voicing that makes sense.

 

In a Major 7th chord, the 5th doesn’t really add any flavor to the chord.  It’s just filler.  If you need to condense voicings just remove the 5th (if it’s an altered 5th like. #5 or a b5 – that’s a different story!!).  Here’s a shell voicing of the C major 7th (no 5th):  R-3rd-5th.

C Maj
Now I see that Db – F# as just a barre on the 2nd fret.  (Side note – taken on it’s own I hear this as F#-C# or a F# power chord.  In the following examples I’ll continue to use Db but I recommend paying attention to what you hear and adjusting appropriately).

DbF#

Combining the two produces this:

CMaj 7b9#11_1

As an alternative to this voicing I also like the 3rd on the high E string – so I’ve switched the F# and E around in the voicing below.  Use one of these for the examples below (or any other voicing with the appropriate notes that works for you.)

Cmaj7b9#11_2

  • Now that we know what chord we’re playing the question of “what do we play over it?” becomes a little easier to answer.  My very first question might be counter-intuitive but typically I’d ask, “What chord are you playing after it?”  It’s important to understand how a chord works in the context of the chords around it because ultimately you want to be able to make a musical statement that has continuity through a chord progression.

 

  • For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume it’s the ending chord of a tune.  Start with just the notes of the chord: C, E, G, B, Db, F# 

    in order that becomes C, Db, E, F#, G, B.  Using the notes that are actually in the chord for melodic exploration are the best place to start!  You can always add other notes after!

Here’s a lick that uses the notes of the scale in position.

Scale 1

When I play licks like this I always play the chord first to get the sound of the chord in my head and THEN work on a lick.  You could loop the chord with a looper, record it and play it as a backing track, etc.  the point is to get the harmonic context (i.e. the sound) in your head first and go from there.

Note:  the resolution to C doesn’t really feel complete.  The F# and Db in the chord creates instability.  It’s almost as if the chord is implying (to my ears) a resolution to Em.  When you have chords like any kind of dominant chord – they typically want to resolve somewhere.  Pay attention to where your ear tells you the chord is going and use that in crafting lines and ideas.

So start here!  Just familiarize yourself with the sound of the chord and how the individual chord tones work over it.

  • You could remove any note for a pentatonic (C, E, F#, B, G / C, Db, E, F#, B for example).  Here’s are a few fingerings to explore those ideas.  Apply melodic devices (rests, rhythmic variation, sequencing) to get generate unique ideas.

Cmaj7b9#11_2

Pentatonic Lick 1_1A

  • You’re only missing some type of A for a 7-note scale (Ab, A, A#)  Let’s say A for now:  C, Db, E, F#, G, A, B

Here are a couple of ideas floating around that.  The first one uses the sequencing idea we saw before – the second is just a straight melody.

7 note with A

  • Repeating licks are something worth exploring as well (particularly if you’re playing the last chord as a cadenza).  Here’s a little McLaughlin inspired run.

Repeating Lick

  • Try extracting some triads, 7th chords or intervallic ideas from the scale.  In the example below, I took a G5 add 2 (aka Gsus2 aka replacing the B in a G major triad with an A) and moved it in scale wise motion on the A, G and B strings.  I added a C in the bass for harmonic context (sometimes played with the thumb but you can experiment with fingerings) to help get the sound of the triad in my head. (Watch that stretch in bar 3!!  If it hurts your hand just tap the C with your picking hand.)

Intervals 1

  • You can get a lot of mileage from just two alternating between 2 sets of triads (or any other type of 3 note cells – the end result is a Hexatonic – or 6-note scale).  Here I’ve used C major and the notes Db, F# B.  I start moving them through inversions and then mix an match to get some more interesting ideas out of the line.

Intervals 2

  • You could also try working in some chromaticism (D, Eb, G#, Bb) etc. for a 8 or 9- note scale:

Chromatic

  • This doesn’t even take into account approach notes (there’s a considerable amount of 1/2 step motion in the chord already (B-C, C-Db, F#G) but you could add in approach notes to B (Bb),  E(Eb), or F# (F) for example, superimposition of other arpeggios / tonalities or a number of other approaches – this is simply one simple approach to get some ideas flowing for approaching how to play over an unfamiliar chord.

 

  • One place where people get hung up on something like this is trying to take on too much at once.  “Seeing” the chord over the entire fretboard.  Working out arpeggios in all positions etc.. Notice that once I worked out a voicing in second position – many of the licks just worked around the chord shape there.  Start small!!!  Find a sound you like and run it into the ground with melodic possibilities and variations and lick ideas. Then try others. One eats an elephant one bite at a time.

 

Ultimately what to play over any given chord will depend on the melody, the chords before and after it, the mood of the tune, and your aesthetic.  It also depends on what you hear – so explore lot’s of variations and work on the ones that sound good to you!

As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading!

-SC

 

Assumption Junction What’s Your Function?

Guitar Playing is Littered With Assumptions

Many players assume that if they play the same thing over an over again (regardless of focus, analysis / assessment of what is being played and/or increases in difficulty) that somehow the sheer act of repetition will make them better.

My big rant about the 1-2-3-4 exercise is that:

  1. Practiced the way it’s typically taught (straight 16th notes with no phrasing or variation) it’s largely useless as a musical device.  If you play this:
    1234-1st-position
    on a club date for more than a bar or two you’re going to get an eye roll.  Throw it into every solo and regardless of how fast or clean you play it people will be pulling your name off their iPhone.
  2. As a technical development tool most people practice it with terrible fret hand technique and/or poor picking synchronization.  This merely ingrains bad habits that become harder to fix later.
  3. AND (THIS IS THE BIG ONE):  There is an unwritten assumption that practicing this will somehow make you “better” as a guitar player.

The only thing this prepares you for is the crappy Flight of The Bumblebee arrangement that never seems to die in circles of “No…really –  how fast can you play?” question asking.

Having said that, there are skills that you CAN gleen from working on this, if you’re doing it in the right manner.  (I even wrote a 254 page book with examples for how to actually use this idea to really get into the technical and melodic elements of DEEP positional work.)

positional-exploration

Enter a caption

If you’re practicing it verbatim above with a metronome and really paying attention to left and right hand technique it can, if nothing else, reinforce a 1/16th note tempo and give you some technical basis for playing 4-note per string scales.  It may even provide some small amount of ear training for hearing semi-chromatic passages.

So while you can, indirectly, get some hidden benefit from working on this there are simply much more direct and efficient ways to develop each of those areas.

It’s not classical piano

Guitar doesn’t have the benefit of a pedagogical history of something like classical piano which has a very rich history of technical development wed to ever challenging repertoire.  Outside of classical guitar, the history of guitar pedagogy in the 20th century is largely word of mouth.  It’s players who learned licks or ideas through their playing and taught those to other players – often without a real understanding of what’s going on.

We live in a world that’s obsessed with hacks, but you’re maximizing the efficiency of something erroneous you’re just getting someplace bad faster.

From Assumption to Adaptation

Recently, I had to track some solos.  “No problem”, I thought.  It’s a simple harmonic setup so it should be no issue.

However, the solo was based on a pentatonic raga idea using only the notes E, G#, A, B, D.  (E7 add 4).

Trying to create something interesting with a limited note choice really put me on my toes and the first thing that I found out was that some of the intervallic ideas I was going for were not things I was going to be able to improvise cleanly.

This idea was one that was immediately destined for the shed.

shakti-lick-jpeg

While I was initially frustrated, I realized I had a series of assumptions that I was working from.  Namely,

  • I’ve practiced sextuplets
  • I’ve practiced string skipping
  • I’ve practiced wide interval playing

Therefore I “should” somehow be able to roll out of bed and play this lick using all three (and a pentatonic scale I’m not used to) at tempo (about 130 bpm).

The fact is that having worked on all of those things will allow me to get the lick down much faster than otherwise possible now, but without practicing these things together specifically and in this particular context,  I’m not prepared to record them at tempo.

Guitarists in particular seem to work on these kinds of assumptions all of the time (and most of our assumptions are wrong).

If you come up against an obstacle in your playing, I recommend you take a pause and a deep breath or two and really assess what you’re trying to do and what you’ve really done to prepare for it.

This leaves you with 3 options.

  1. Adapt what you can already do
  2. Put the work in to get it under your fingers
  3. Play something else

I’ve used every one of these approaches to get through various road blocks that have come up in my playing and every one of them has been the right answer in one context or another.  The key concept here is to be aware of assumptions when you’re making them and then either discard them when they’re not true or making them part of your (experience based) knowledge if they are true.

Depending on where you are in your learning process a good teacher can really help you get past those obstacles.  If you don’t have one in your area I know one who is available via skype here.

Alright.  Back to the recording!

As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading.

SC

An Update And A Lesson On Technical Recycling

“It’s been a long…long…time”

I just realized that it’s been a while since I posted anything here.  Life has a habit of getting in the way of well laid plans.  So here’s a bullet point list to create a quick update.

  • Korisoron – We are currently working on a new KoriSoron recording and our most intensive material will be on this one!  Initial tracking is in progress and we expect to have the recording out in September.  I’m also writing new material for the project and-  Booking new gigs for the fall.
  • TEDx – Korisoron has been asked to perform at TEDx Schenectady this fall and I’ll be delivering a related talk.
  • Old Project  – I don’t want to jinx anything but I should be getting together with some former band mates of mine and putting some finishing touches on a project that was very near and dear to my heart (and that I’ve mentioned in prior posts).   Fingers crossed – that will be another EP out this fall.
  • “Eel-Ech!-trick-a-coup-stick” – is the tentative title of a solo acoustic recording I’ve been working on.  I had previously recorded some tracks but wasn’t happy with them so I’ve been cleaning some things up and moving forward with getting that out the door by the end of the year.
  • The new pedagogy approach I mentioned a while back – I’ve been working on this but, quite honestly, I seriously underestimated the amount of prep I’d need to do to make this work so I’m just rolling up my sleeves and trying to pull ahead.  I took some notes back from the presentation I did at the HVCC Guitar Festival and have been pulling the material together – but I’ve learned more in the last 6 months about how to deliver everything (and what to deliver) than I learned in all my previous years.  I’m super excited about what this is becoming.
  • The other things – I have a few other musical things in the works that are too tentative to discuss, but, well, let’s just say that it’s a lot of electric guitar in various fashions that will be disruptive.  Other things also include a lot of revision plans for this site as well.

A lesson while you’re waiting

One of the things that hold up posts are the fact that I don’t write them in an organized way.  I write them in real time based on a theme in my head because it makes the writing more immediate and (hopefully) engaging for the reader.  Good for the reader – bad for productivity.  A post with any kind of lesson content typically takes 3-5 hours but some of the mode ones took 10-12 hours in editing, layout etc. so that’s why the posts get a bit sporadic for actual lesson material.

The value of recycling

One trap I still find myself falling into is the trap of “short attention span theater” or playing an idea, discarding it like a child’s toy and then picking up another idea and doing the same.  Maybe it’s a little cultural ADHD kicking it – but it’s very easy to loose site of taking a theme and really developing it into something.  (A great example of this for me is Bill Frissell’s Nashville where you can really hear each of the players take care in developing musical solos based on the melody).

From a technical standpoint, this approach can also be really useful.  It can take a long time to really master technical aspects of performance (particularly at the early stages).  Finding new ways to utilize the approaches you’ve been practicing will dramatically reduce the time it takes to learn new things.  For example, alternate picking takes a long time to develop at the early stages of playing, but once you have it down it makes everything  you have to lean to play with alternate picking easier to perform.

Optimize

Let’s take an A minor pentatonic lick.

Pentatonic Lick 1

Let’s say that you’re using hammer ons and pull offs to create a more legato feel.

For me, the most legato part of this passage is the last three notes.  I’ll move the E on the B string to the 9th fret of the G string to put 3 notes to that string and make the pattern more fluid.

(Note the change in fingering)

Pentatonic Lick 1a

This is more of how I approach pentatonic fingerings so I adapted the first fingering for one that works better for me.  Here’s the first part of the lesson – assuming that you have a base level of technique acquired – find fingerings that make sense for you!

If this fingering isn’t one that’s common for you and you want to practice the approach.  Here’s how I would do it.

 1.  Isolate. There are two technical hurdles in this lick. Combining the 1 note per string and 3-note per string notes with picking

 Lick 1CAnd this:

Lick 1D

And the transition between the two:
Lick 1E
2.  Practice

The first step is to just get the initial fingering and picking down.

  • Set a metronome for 5-10 minutes.
  • Slow it down! Playing fast before you’re ready just adds tension and makes the lick sloppier and harder to play.  The goal is to take something you can play perfectly and effortlessly and then systematically develop it so you can play it perfectly and effortlessly faster.

Lick 1 Slow

  • Pay attention to the 3 T’s (Timing, Tone and hand Tension).  If you find your attention wandering this will get it back.  Are there any biffed notes? (Watch that pinky!)  Is any part of the hammer-on/pull-off uneven? (Bonus credit – make a video recording and listen back.  Pay attention to what both hands are doing.  Be critical but not judgemental.  Imagine you are watching a friend play this.  What constructive criticism could you add to help him or her play it better?)
  • Write down what you just did.
  • Adapt this to the second lick and the transitional lick if need be.  Get it to the point that the entire lick can be played without mistakes.
  • Repeat as long as time allows.  Do daily (and if possible, multiple sessions daily).
  • Typically with something like this, I’ll also practice it as sextuplets and a few other rhythmic variations to have those at my disposal if need be.

3.  Extrapolate.

This is something I improvised over a C minor-ish feel that uses the same technical approach that I used on the previous lick with a C Blues scale.

Cmin Lick

Click on image to see a larger version

From a technical standpoint – this is the same basic idea as the first 6 notes from the previous A minor example.

C min lick 1
(Ah – the fingering is missing here – I’m using 2-1-2-3 for each of these)

Sequenced here from the b7:
C Min Lick 2
And from the 5th here:
C Minor Lick 3

In fact the only new thing is the string skipping at the end:

(I got lazy here – I’m using the tritone F#/Gb interchangeably).

Cm String Skip
If the string skipping is unfamiliar to you you can just use the same approach to get it down outlined above.

(Yet another) Shawn Lane Observation

I was watching some footage of Shawn Lane that someone posted the other day and this technical recycling was VERY apparent to me in the footage.  From a technical standpoint, it appears to me that he took six or seven technical approaches beyond the realm that anyone else was willing to develop them to (fretting hand taps as opposed to hammer-ons, rhythmic groupings variations (5,6,7,9, etc), wide interval string skipping, Hindustani / Carnatic slide playing and blues phrasing) and adapted those to all of the different music he was engaged in.

In Karate, it always comes back to the Kata.  In boxing – the basics, the jab, the hook, cross, the uppercut.  You can practice fundamentals your whole life and STILL find things to improve.  New techniques take a long time to get down.  Invest the time wisely to get the one’s you need REALLY down to help realize what you want to express and then explore your sonic world with the tools you’ve developed.  (and if you’re not sure which techniques those are – a good teacher can help!  You can email me at guitar (dot) blueprint at gmail if you’re interested in setting up skype lessons to help realize your goals.)

As always, I hope this helps!

Thanks for reading,

SC

 

 

Ask First “Why?” Then “How?”

HVCC Guitar Festival Recap

Recently, I did an hour long presentation on applying world music for guitar at the 2016 Hudson Valley guitar festival.

It’s a large and potentially overwhelming topic that would have (to me) painful omissions if taught over the course of a 15 week college term.  In an hour its more like Campbells Pepper Pot soup.  You dump the condensed mass of ingredients in the form of the can it came out of into a pot and you can’t make out the individual components right away.  You think, “Wow that cant be good” but after adding some water and heat and stirring you get a soup with surprising flavor out of it.  (The last I knew Campbells hadn’t made Pepper Pot soup in years.   Perhaps the main ingredient that added flavor, tripe, was off putting to some people.  My grandfather said it was the only good soup they made and when it was announced that they weren’t making it anymore I remember that he went to all the local stores and bought whatever they had of it in stock.  Strange that now in a celebrity chef culture people would probably seek that ingredient out .  As usual I digress…).

So in a best case you make something that people can digest.  In a worse case they get a mouthful of concentrate and spit it out or – if watered down too much they get something that has no content whatsoever.  The challenge becomes –  what’s the minimum amount of data I have to have present to fully represent the idea later?

Revise and shine

With a few of these more formal presentations under my belt I have developed a pretty consistent way of approaching them.  I’ll outline the topic and pull all the material together and edit and revise ruthlessly until I feel like I can move forward.  I’ll run multiple versions by trusted people and work on the cusp of a complete presentation and an improvised talk to keep it engaging.

For this specific presentation I ended up removing a lot of material in the interest of time.  This was unfortunate as one of the excised elements (the perspective / motivational aspect of practicing) is one that bears more discussion in general.

I’ve adapted some of that material for a post here.  You can read it in a TED talk voice if that helps but it into context.  In any capacity – I hope it helps!

Before continuing to the post I need to first thank Maria Zemantauski for having me present and play at the guitar Festival and thank the long suffering John Harper for his wisdom, guidance and editing chops.  Much of what is written below is a direct outcome of their involvement – so thank you!

Ask How AND Why

As a teacher, the most common question I get – by far – is some variation of the following:

  • I bought a book….
  • I watched some videos….
  • I took some lessons…

How come I don’t get better at playing the guitar?

Which is kind of like asking:

  • I bought a gym membership
  • I bought some muscle gainer
  • I bought a work out DVD

How come I’m not more fit?

My first question in response to this is always:

Are you putting the work in?

and the answer is always, “of course!”

My second question is then:

Are you REALLY putting the work in a focused and consistent way?

and the answer is usually, “well what do you mean by that?”

Are you REALLY putting the work in a focused and consistent way using proper technique AND monitoring and assessing your progress? i.e. are you working on this every day, writing down what you’re doing and actually monitoring your progress by keeping a log of what you’re doing and reviewing said log?

– that answer is always no.

We get better at things

  • by being clear about what we’re doing and
  • by doing them in a consistent and focused way.

Doing anything consistently (i.e. doing it day in and day out and making it part of the long haul) requires having a “why”.

Essentially you’re developing a new habit and you need to have a clear motivation to develop a new habit.

Often we don’t have a WHY for what we want to do.  Or we have the wrong why!

How not to learn Italian

Do any of you speak Italian?  I don’t – but I’ll share with you a brief story about my attempt to learn Italian.

In college I was madly smitten with an Italian goddess named Ada. She was smart and funny and beautiful and incredibly talented.

When I say she was Italian I mean that she came from from Italy versus she’s Italian from Utica, NY.

Now I am not a beautiful guy so since I didn’t have the looks to try to approach this woman  I tried to use my brains to get her attention. I asked another friend of mine who was from Italy, to translate a phrase for me:

It is a pleasure to bask in the beauty of your smile.

He asked me to write it down.

Admittedly, the word bask  (“To lie exposed to warmth and light, typically from the sun, for relaxation and pleasure or to revel in and make the most of (something pleasing).”) is a difficult word to translate. But he translated it for me. “E une piacare, bagnarmi nella belleza del tuo sorriso”.  I am NOT a natural language learner so I repeated it endlessly like a mantra and tweaked my pronunciation for a day or two.

My friend Linda formally introduced us. I said hello and as I shook her hand with both of my hands I looked her in the eye and said:

“E une piacare, bagnarmi nella belleza del tuo sorriso”. Which translates into:

It is a pleasure to bathe in the beauty of your smile.

While the sentiment may have been headed in a similar direction for intent it’s totally different in execution.

She blushed and then introduced me to the guy who (out of nowhere) suddenly came up behind her as her boyfriend.

Awkward pleasantries were exchanged and I made a quick exit.

The non-obvious question here is:

Why didn’t I get better at Italian?

The answer is I didn’t really want to learn Italian. I wanted to impress a girl.

I had a why for learning a phrase but I had the wrong “why” for actually learning the language.  So I never got any further with my Italian studies.

Here’s something that is also not obvious

Your success in an area will rarely be achieved by just mindlessly doing work. But it generally involves focused work in service to your goals.

  • WHAT you want to do will inspire you.
  • WHY you want to do it will keep you going.

This is a critical component to learning anything. To really learn something you have to have a strong reason why and that has to align with your goals.

If, for example, you want to be a great lead guitarist and you decide to work on adding some world music to your playing because you think it’s going to make you a better player – you now have a reason to practice that material and the time you spend practicing that material will be viewed as being in service to you goal rather than detracting from it.

This is why people start working on something like a melodic minor scale and stop – because (typically unconsciously) they haven’t figured out how this is going to serve them.

So going back to the beginning.  If

  • you bought a book….
  • you watched some videos….
  • you took some lessons…

and you understand how those things relate to your goals – you are more likely to put the time into working on them.

If you REALLY put the work in a focused and consistent way using proper technique AND monitoring and assessing your progress (i.e. working on this every day, writing down what you’re doing and actually monitoring your progress by keeping a log of what you’re doing and reviewing said log and adjusting when necessary based on that assessment of data)

you will get better at guitar. (Or whatever else you do!)

That’s it for now!  Hopefully this helps you with your own goal setting!

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

GuitArchitecture Clinic & KoriSoron Concert HVCC Saturday April 23rd

For those of you who live in update NY – Hudson Valley Community College is putting on a really cool day and a half guitar event on April 22nd and 23rd.

I’ll be doing a one hour clinic on Saturday, April 23rd on “Adaptive guitar – applying World music to guitar” and helping close out the day with a concert by KoriSoron.  I’m really excited by this clinic as I’ll be essentially hacking the presentation and demonstrating a number of approaches that can help with rapid skill acquisition in any area (but especially guitar).

Tickets are $20 – which gets you access to all events for both days (or free for Hudson Valley Community College students, faculty and staff with ID (ticket required)).

Tickets available online at Brown Paper Tickets or call (518) 629-8071 for tickets and information.

There are a lot of great workshops and performances planned – and honestly the $20 price tag is a fraction of what a private lesson with any of these people would cost you – so it’s a steal.

Here’s a schedule of the two days events from the HVCC website:

Guitar Festival
Friday, April 22, 2016

The Hudson Valley Community College Guitar Festival is a celebration of electric, steel, and nylon string guitar styles and bass guitar with acclaimed workshop facilitators, guitarists and luthiers from the Capital Region. Events include workshops, jam sessions and concerts featuring blues, bluegrass, classical, flamenco, gypsy jazz, rock and roll, and roots styles.
Madison Peruzzi “Guitar Set-up & Maintenance”
10 – 11 a.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 1

Morning Blues Jam with Super 400
10 – 11:30 a.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Auditorium
Don’t miss this special opportunity to jam with Lori Friday, Kenny Hohman and Joe Daley – or just come by to listen!

Monica Roach “Intro to Jazz Bass”
10:30 – 11:30 a.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Viking Video Studio B
During this workshop we will discuss the different styles of electric bass performance. We also will explore “playing in the pocket” and its versatility.

Madison Peruzzi “Guitar Effects & Pedals”
11 a.m. – Noon

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 1

Lori Friday “Electric Bass for Beginners: Let’s Get Rockin’!”
Noon – 1 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Viking Video Studio B
Build a solid foundation on the bass with Lori Friday of Super 400. We’ll introduce the tools every electric bassist needs: hand positioning, fingers vs picking, riffs, locking with the drums, and more. We’ll end the session by playing the Cream classic, Sunshine of Your Love,” with varying levels of technique to suit intermediate players as well.

Kenny Hohman of Super 400 “Get Started on Slide Guitar”
Noon – 1 p.m.
Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 3
This workshop will be geared toward guitarists looking to add slide playing to their trick bag. It will cover the required gear, basic right and left hand techniques, and how to use open tunings as well as standard tuning in an effective way, with examples of classic slide parts to get you on your way.

Thomasina Winslow “Acoustic Blues”
12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 1

Bernie Mulleda “Intro to Gypsy Jazz”
1:30 – 2:30 p.m.
Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 3
Bernie Mulleda will cover the basics of Gypsy Jazz rhythm and lead guitar styles.

Joe Lowry “Pentatonic and the Blues”
1:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Viking Video Studio B
A look into Major and Minor Pentatonic scales in blues. “Its all about the feeling.”

Chris Chapman “Metal”
2 – 3 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 1

Open Mic hosted by Caroline Motherjudge
2 – 5 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Auditorium
All musical acts welcome – solo, duo or band. Be part of the show that features YOU! Sign up in advance to secure your spot or join us on the day of the event.
To sign up for Open Mic, go to www.facebook.com/hvccguitarfest.

Chuck D’Aloia “Blues With Brains & Beyond: Shortcuts Into More Complex Harmony”
3 – 4 p.m.
Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 3

Graham Tichy “American Roots Electric Guitar”
3:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Viking Video Studio B
Graham Tichy will cover the techniques and music theory to jump start an exploration into the mid-century music styles of Rockabilly, Western Swing, Jump Blues, Swing, Honky Tonk, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll. Workshop participants will learn how to get an authentic tone from any instrument, and gain useful advice on how to approach practice and study for a lifetime of progress.

Guitar Festival
Saturday, April 23, 2016

Madison Peruzzi “Guitar Set-up & Maintenance”
10 – 11 a.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 1

Mike Collins/Eric Marczak “More Than Just Wire & Wood”
10:30 – 11:30 a.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Auditorium
Luthiers Collins and Marczak discuss the fine art of guitar building.

Maria Zemantauski “Intro to Flamenco Guitar”
10:30 – 11:30 a.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 3
This class will focus on rasqueado, the rhythmically precise chord strumming style specific to Flamenco guitar. Maria will introduce basic rasqueado patterns within the compas (rhythmic structure) of farruca and rumba.

Mark Gamsjager “Rockabilly Guitar”
10:30 – 11:30 a.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Viking Video Studio B

Madison Peruzzi “Guitar Effects & Pedals”
11 a.m. – Noon

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 1

David LaPlante “A History of the Spanish Guitar” with performance demonstrations by Christopher Gotzenberg
Noon – 1 p.m.
Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Auditorium

Chris Chapman & Jamie Juron “Metal: Putting It Together”
Noon – 1 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Viking Video Studio B
Assault On The Living guitarists demonstrate their approach to collaborating.

Bernie Mulleda “Intro to Gypsy Jazz”
Noon – 1 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 3
Bernie Mulleda will cover the basics of Gypsy Jazz rhythm and lead guitar styles.

Sten Isachsen “Brazilian Guitar Styles”
12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 1
Sten Isachsen explores chord progressions, rhythms and arrangements for solo guitar.

Harry George Pellegrin “Is Ferdinando Carulli Your Right Hand Man?”
1:30 – 2:30 p.m.
Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Auditorium
Harry George Pellegrin compares the pedagogical works of Carulli’s Opus 114 to Giuliani’s 120 and Carlevaro’s Cuaderno No. 2

Mike Dimin “The Art of Solo Bass”
1:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Viking Video Studio B
It is so much more than the sight of a lone bassist on stage. It’s an exploration into the interconnectedness of the melody, harmony and rhythm, through our instrument – the bass. Be a complete musician, not “just the bass player.”

Scott Collins “Adaptive Guitar: Applying World Music to the Guitar”
1:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 3
In this hands-on session, Scott Collins will guide you through the process of how to take music from other cultures and adapt it into your own songs and/or solos.

Gary Cellucci “Rock Guitar: Soloing and Improvisation Techniques”
2 – 3 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 1
This workshop will help guitarists explore pentatonic scales, arpeggios, and modes over various types of chord progressions in a rock context. Learn how to develop solos with tone, phrasing, theme, variation, and other improvisational techniques. All experience levels are welcome and participation is strongly encouraged.

Mike McMann “Bluegrass Breakdown”
3 – 4 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 3
Explore Bluegrass guitar techniques,including rhythm playing, solos, melodies, scales, cross-picking, and flatpicking in the styles of Doc Watson and Tony Rice. Hands-on; bring your guitar.

Chuck D’Aloia “Blues With Brains & Beyond: Shortcuts Into More Complex Harmony”
3 – 4 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Viking Video Studio B

GX3+ in concert
3:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Auditorium
Ray Andrews, Sten Isachsen & Maria Zemantauski collaborate to create something totally unique: GX3+. The name GX3+ refers to the the fact that they play (at least) three very different guitars – flamenco, classical and Baroque – plus mandolin, charango, guilele, cajons (percussion boxes), banjo, and mountain dulcimer. The result is innovative arrangements of the traditional, classical and Latin repertoire, plus stunning, original compositions by Maria Z, arranged for the trio.

Christopher Gotzenberg “Classical Guitar: It’s not just music from old dead guys!”
3:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Meeting Room 1
The classical guitar has a large repertoire, with music from the Medieval era all the way to current day. Most people associate “Classical” music by composers from days gone by, but some of the most interesting music we have is being composed today. This lecture-recital features music by living composers; Moller, Brouwer, Assad, and Pasieczny. Oh, and it’s not atonal, so don’t be afraid!

Korisoron in concert
5 – 6 p.m.

Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Auditorium
An instrumental acoustic trio combining rock and progressive influences with musical traditions from across the globe. Guitarists Scott Collins and Farzad Golpayegani along with percussionist Dean Mirabito take the stage.