An Update and Part 1 of a new lesson

One small step for man

I’ve been doing a LOT of research on pedagogy and rapid skill acquisition versus mastery in preparation for the new teaching project I’ve been developing.  It’s reinforced a lot of what I’ve learned through trial and (a great deal of) error, and it’s given me some new tools and insights for how to get people to learn new skills quickly and how to get people who want to go past competence to go past their current limits towards mastery.  The new project I’m working on is audacious and big and, to be candid, intimidating to try to develop, encapsulate and ship out to people, but it’s getting closer to being done!

In the meantime, it’s been a while since I wrote a lesson post.  Mostly, it’s because what takes 5-10 minutes to explain in person takes hours of work to explain to people in a way that you can learn from reading online.  With that in mind, I’m going to take a lesson regarding how to come up with your own licks and how to learn them efficiently and break it up into a multi-part lesson.  In this lesson, I’m going to give you an approach to generating new ideas and then in the next lesson, I’m going to take you through a practical application and show how I develop a new idea and get it under my fingers (and into my ear so I can have it at my disposal when I play).

Where do licks come from?

In my experience there are two primary ways to develop your lick vocabulary.

  • Learn licks from other people and make them your own.
  • Discover licks on your own.


There are several ways to discover your own licks but a the one I invest the most time in myself is improvisation.  When I’m really improvising (and not just sticking licks I already know into things I’m playing over), I always find some new angle or approach that I never expected.  But if you’re really in the moment, it’s impossible to keep of all those ideas afterwards using only memory.

Let’s talk about improvisation for a moment.  As even Derek Bailey couldn’t really encapsulate it over a hundred or so pages it’s not something that I’m going to be able to do here in a few sentences, but I’ll do my best to give you some thoughts on improvisation.  I’m going to use language as an example as we improvise when we speak every single day and generally do so quite naturally without a great deal of stress or worry.

Let’s say you’re going to give a speech.  You want the speech to be professionally delivered and polished so you write it in advance, edit and revise it endlessly and practice giving it over and over again so that when you go in front of a room full of people you can execute it in a perfect manner.  This is kind of  a classical music approach to having every performance be perfect.  It’s like working out a solo and playing the same solo every night over a song.  There’s nothing wrong with that, you may need to be that comfortable with the material to get up in front of an audience and speak.  But over time, you’ll probably find that it will be difficult to maintain the passion in performing the same material exactly the same way every time.

As an intermediate step, you might find yourself interjecting some new observations into the speech on the fly.  Perhaps someone asks for a clarifier about something you said and you need to come up with a more detailed explanation or an analogy.  Maybe a Q&A is added at the end of the speech.  It becomes a “thinking on your feet” moment.  Now you’re improvising a little.  Maybe you add little flourishes in a pre-written solo, or throw some licks in between a vocal melody if you’re playing guitar on something.

Now you know the speech (and the subject matter) thoroughly.  You don’t want it to be stale, so you have a series of talking points on an index card.  You know how you’re going to start the speech and how it’s going to end, but you just have a few bullet points on an index card to use as a launching point for talking about them in more depth.  This is how many people approach jazz/rock improvisation.  They know the material enough to be comfortable, they’re going to start with a lick or two – develop a few ideas and then target specific things to happen at certain points in the solo with an end in mind.

Then you have the next level.  You walk into an unannounced meeting and have to make an impromptu presentation on something. Now you’re REALLY improvising.

In my mind, improvising in any capacity involves some level of working without a net and limiting yourself to specific approaches.

For example: If I’m improvising on a tune I’m practicing –   I’ll pre determine things like:

  • I’m not going to play any licks I already know.
  • Perhaps I limit myself to a scale or hand full of tetra chords
  • I’m only going to solo on certain strings or solo in certain areas of the fret board.

Save it for the ages

One thing I recommend doing is dedicating at least one part of your practice session to developing new ideas and recording it in some way, shape or form.

In Korisoron, we have an inexpensive Tascam recorder that doubles as a live mixing desk that we use to record shows just so we can do pre-production for tracks we’re working on – but you don’t need anything fancy.  I picked up a ZOOM mini recorder used for well under $100 that just sits on my desk top for this exact thing (or when inspiration strikes) but an iPhone of android device would also work just fine.  Whatever you use – just make it something that is easy to access and works for you! 

Assess and Analyze

Now here’s the part a lot of people don’t want to do.  You gotta go back and listen to what you recorded and find the things you like.  Since you’re improvising a lot of these things won’t be pristine ideas, they might have mistakes or only be partially formed ideas.  The process here is two fold:

1.  Really assess where you’re at with your playing to determine what you need to work on.  If you find that your time is all over the place – that’s something to work on.  If you find yourself going back to the same rhythmic approaches for every phrase – that’s something to work on.  You want to be detached in this process.  This isn’t about beating yourself up over what you didn’t do well or giving yourself a pat on the back for something you did.  This is about coming up with an accurate assessment of where you are really at.  One way to detach yourself is to go into third-person mode and listen to the recordings as if someone else made them.   You don’t listen to it directly as a measure of what you did but as what happened musically.   One way to do this is to listen to the recordings a few days (or weeks) after you record them.  I’ve come back to recordings I did months ago and have no memory of any of the ideas that happened there.

2.  Find the diamonds in the rough and clean them up.  This is where the vocabulary part comes in.  For me, when I improvise my ideas and approaches are not often pristine.  So when listening back, I’ll take a little fragment of something I like and practice it and try to add it to my repertoire.  By practicing it – I mean:

  • Getting the lick under my fingers and being consistent in picking.
  • Working the lick in a variety of harmonic and rhythmic contexts.
  • Expanding the lick.  So if it’s an intervallic lick from a scale moving that interval up and down the scale to see what else it yields.

Get Swoll

Doing this consistently can not only add new ideas to your playing and writing (I can’t tell you how many of the things I improvised and recorded became songs at some point), but it can radically improve technical aspects of your playing.

To Review:

Here’s part one of the plan:

  • Improvise. (Create)
  • Record everything.
  • Listen back and find the new things that you improvised that you like. (Assess)
  • Learn (and when possible improve upon) the best ideas you came up with when improvising.

In Part II of this series, I’m going to use a specific example from my own practicing to show how I generate ideas by:

  • Creating.
  • Deconstructing.
  • Refining.
  • Executing.
  • Observing.
  • Correcting (and)
  • Executing Again.

You might want to write that down somewhere you can post it.  That’s an important key to getting things done.

As always, I hope this helps!  Thanks for reading.


Recording Prep, A Mini String Review And Why I Rarely Write About Gear Anymore

KoriSoron’s Recording!

KoriSoron is going into the studio next weekend to record 3-4 songs for release before the end of the year.

By “studio” I don’t mean tracking something at one of our homes and self mixing and releasing it (though there’s nothing wrong with that), I mean actually going to a distinct physical location where a professional has set up gear to mix and record and recording something, mixing it there and releasing it.

Now I hear a number of people saying, “Well that’s dumb – why would you do that when you can do it at home and save money?”  The answer is multi-faceted.

  1. Time is money and I want to save time.  If I’m working on a project with a budget and a deadline, it’s pretty easy for me to knuckle down and get things done.  But when I’m working on projects without a deadline…’s just too easy to go down the rabbit hole of distraction.  What’s the quote, Perfect is the enemy of done?  If you want it done, you need to have limitations and the external studio is an awesome limiter.
  2. A big part of our sound is the group playing together.  Doing something where Dean records a percussion part and Farzad and I overdub everything would ruin the sound.  It would be sterile.
  3. Live we improvise a great deal.  That requires getting it off the stage instead of making 100 passes at something and comping it together in a take.
  4. Recording acoustics at home – without an iso booth – is a nightmare.  Really.  It’s worth it to me to just let someone else do it.

So that means I’m spending time in pre-production so I’m not wasting time in the studio.  We use a Tascam DP-32SD to mix our shows and generally hit the record button which gives us valuable information on how things sound in reality (often very different than it sounds in memory and/or in our head at the time) and allow us to really prepare for things.

In a live setting everything I play for solos is improvised – but in the studio that ratio is probably more like 25-30%.   Live, I’m dealing with immediacy and in recording I’m dealing with posterity.  Recordings for me are sonic documentaries in that they’re a reflection of where I am in the moment.  Although I really like the work I did with Tubtime (and some of my other projects) I don’t go back and listen to them often as it’s like finding a picture of yourself in your high school year book and cringing a but while asking, “What was I thinking?”.

Since I relate all music to communication –  in a live context I try to have a moment of inspiration where I start to say something and come to a conclusion or observation that is engaging and surprises me as well.  A recording is more like a speech where I have have talking points and a general idea where I’m going to end up, but want to keep the transitions loose so I can engage the audience more.

Preparation in this case means really being aware of what the other guys in the group are doing and being aware of what I’m doing as well.  Sonically, that means really having my sounds down so I can be adaptable in that what might sound great in the practice room or on stage will not work for the studio.  I not only have to be dialed into the nuances of my tone to be able to adapt to what’s going on but I also need to be comfortable enough with what I’m playing to be able to play even if I don’t like the sound coming out of my headphones.

The Gear (and why I rarely write gear reviews here anymore)

My electro-acoustic rig is a Yamaha APX-1000 and a ZT Amps lunchbox acoustic amplifier with a boss volume pedal, a looper and (lately) a LR Baggs Session DI in the effects loop.  Everything is cabled with D’Addario/Planet Waves cables. Sometimes a Yamaha THR-5A is thrown into the mix as well.

For strings, I’ve used a bunch of them but keep coming back to D’Addario for my steel strings and electrics.  A while back D’Addario was looking for beta testers for their Acoustic Alloy N6 strings and I sent them my bio and they send me a pack of beta strings.

I really dig them, and they’ll be my go-to acoustic string once they’re commercially available.  They look more like electric guitar strings in that they don’t have that phospher bronze color.  D’Addario cites their use of hegagonal cores and High Carbon Steel in the construction.  All I know is the harmonics of the pitches seem to be clearer, and warmer.  They hold tone really well and also hold tuning really well.  It’s a great sounding string.  If you pick up the upcoming KoriSoron recording you’ll hear it on there.

Two other quick notes about my current rig.

1.  My electro-acoustic.  I really lucked out with this guitar.  I think Yamaha is doing really great work at a great price point.  Originally I played at APX 500’s as they were easier to get my hands on – but I like the nut spacing and construction better on my APX1000.  This is just a great acoustic-electric guitar and I hope to expand my relationship with Yamaha in the future.

2.  My amp.  The ZT Amplifier folks have been really supportive of KoriSoron and their amps have actually made me a better player in that they have a hi-fi quaility to them.  By that I mean, that they take whatever you are playing and reflecting that accurately at a higher volume.  In my case, it meant  some of the things  I was playing that I thought was “good enough” turned out to have technical issues and every biffed note and non articulated thing I played became apparent.  I had to go back to the drawing board for and really clean up some of the things I was playing to get them to sit in the live setting properly.  Those are things I might not have noticed with a mic – but it’s really re-focused how I play lead on acoustic in a good way.

Not all traffic is good traffic

When I write about gear on my blog, I only write about things that interest me or that I use (or have used) that I think would be of interest to other people.  There are a lot things that I’ve used that I don’t like and I don’t write about them because there’s enough other negativity on the web.  I’d rather be constructive about what I like and what could be made better about it, than trash something.

From a traffic standpoint that’s not a good idea.  I’d get much more traffic knocking something than writing about liking it – but it’s not the kind of traffic I’m looking for here.  Several years ago I write about a brand of tuners that I was using at the time.  I won’t mention them here because I don’t want additional traffic from them.  I found out that people were VERY opinionated about these tuners.  I started getting daily notifications from people who had technical questions about the tuners.  Requests for advice on installation or repair of the tuners.  Several people tried hijacking the blog and making it a marketplace for the tuners.  One person accused me of being a liar and fabricating my experience leading up to my use of the tuners.

I had posted my opinion about the tuners on the blog because I was using them and because I thought it would generate some traffic.  I thought that traffic might lead to people checking out other things I was doing and maybe buying a book or a cd.

But that’s not how the internet works.

People find a blog based on searches.  If they are looking to have an opinion validated or disputed about their a piece of gear, they are not going to read other things on your site to find out your approaches to pedagogy or art and artistry.  I have always been upfront about my posts here.  I write about things that interest me and write from a standpoint of what will help other people on the same journey.  I also promote things that I create.

Not all things are going to be of service to all people. In the words of one would-be commentator on a post about paying dues;

“Hey Man, WTF? I subscribed to your list as a way to learn. Your explaining company policy? Ok, that’s your focus. Cool. Thanx, but I’m out.”

Think about this from my perspective.  Someone came to the website, got free information and then got offended because I didn’t post another free lesson?  That person will never buy a book, buy a cd or support me in anyway.  They came because they wanted something free and only because it was free and I’m supposed to be upset because they’re gone?

Oh well….

Not all traffic is good traffic.  You’re not going to please everyone with everything that you do.

  • My interests are music and the deeper developments that we make as people by going deeper into art (or deeper into any kind of interactive experience).
  • My interests are how musicians and artists can navigate the current economic landscape to allow them to devote the time and resources to their art that they wish to.
  • My interests are in how to communicate on a deeper level and reach people.

That’s why my posts are generally longer.  From a pure traffic standpoint it’s dumb to write a 3,000 word blog article.  My writing is improvisational as well so these posts typically take hours to write as it requires substantial editing to make it something readable – but I engage in this process because it makes the writing more immediate and, in my experience, makes it more engaging and thus more rewarding for the reader.  Again, not smart from a business perspective but necessary for my goals.

I don’t write the article for the reader who is looking for a quick hack to get 1% better at this thing to then move on to the next thing to get 1% better at.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the focus here.

I write for the person who wants more.  Who wants more deeply.  Who wants to engage with the world on a deeper level.

If you’re reading this and nodding your head.  I write for you and I’m grateful for the opportunity to reach you.

As always, thanks for reading.


Respect The Process (Effectiveness and Efficiency in Practicing)

Efficient Vs. Effective

We live in an era of tricks and hacks and workarounds all in the name of efficiency.

Being efficient can be a very good thing but doing effective things is (IMHO) even better.

Most people equate the two terms but I think that’s a mistake.  Here’s a shortcut to differentiate between the two:

Efficient means doing things better.
Effective means doing better things.

You might be able to learn every trick in the book to be able to analyze a spreadsheet as fast as you possibly can (i.e. be as efficient as you can) by hand, but if you have an app that can interpret the data in the same way (and that is also working in an efficient manner) – that app will do it faster than you regardless of whatever steps you take to be efficient.

Ideally, it’s good if you can do things effectively and efficiently because that maximizes what you can get done but determining what is effective and efficient in practicing is often counter intuitive.

Effectiveness and Efficiency in Practicing

Many players I come across equate skill set with mastery.  Particularly for lead playing, the concept seems to be, “Here’s this lick.  I’m going to get it under my fingers and then it’s going to be something at my disposal when I play.”

In context, it’s akin to saying, “I’m going to lean every chord voicing I can on guitar so I can use them live.”  You can learn a few voicings for a 7(b5 b9) chord but if you don’t understand how to use that chord in the context of a song knowing some fingering isn’t going to help you remember to actually play that chord on a gig.

In other words, mastery is also contextual.  If you don’t have a specific reason why you are trying to play something then it will be much harder to be able to access it when you really want to.

So what’s effective practice material then? 

Well – it’s an elusive question as what’s effective for players changes over time as their ability level increases.

For example, I think developing aural skills (be that formal ear training or the ability to really listen what is happening in a musical context and know how to engage with that in a musical manner) – is a critical skill regardless of how long you’ve been playing but if you don’t have any technical or theoretical skills at your disposal it’s going to take even longer to utilize that ear training and be able to translate that to your instrument.

Effective practice requires reflection and analysis.
It requires the ability to look at what’s going on with your playing and make it better. You don’t get that from learning lick #4 from someone’s YouTube channel. (p.s. there’s nothing wrong with that either – but interacting with someone else’s material in a vacuum generally won’t reveal what you need to work on in your playing.)

The easiest way for most people to understand what will be effective to practice is to take a private lesson with a good teacher.  Mind you I am fully aware of just how difficult that can be.  There are a lot of bad teacher’s out there – but finding someone that can look at what you’re doing in an objective manner makes it easier to diagnose what’s really going on.  The internet makes it possible to take skype lessons with players all over the world.  While not ideal, it’s probably going to get you further than taking a lesson with the 17 year old kid in the back of a music store who is trying to show you how to play the intro to “Sweet Child of Mine” – in response to a generic question of wanting to get better at playing guitar.

Since what I’m saying means that every player will have to tailor what they’re working on to meet specific goals – I’ll throw out one suggestion that I think is universal.  I’ve never once regretted taking the time to learn something aurally.  Whether transcribing it or just being able to play it back – the biggest stylistic elements in my playing came from learning licks from other instruments on guitar and adapting that material to songs I was playing on.
Yes you might get a lick under your fingers faster if you find a tab for it, but you’re more likely to be able to pull that lick out of your hat on a gig if you’ve internalized it and the most effective way to do that is to learn it aurally.

With that in mind, here’s a recommendation that I’d make to anyone that’s practicing anything or trying to gain any kind of skill set:

Respect the Process – Not Just The Product (Result)

So much of what is “sold” to guitarists in instructional material utilizes the concept of a trick or a hack to be able to play something faster – but most players only have a profoundly general idea of what they are trying to achieve on guitar.

If you don’t have a specific goal for what you are trying to do, what advantage is there is getting there faster?

So yes, you have thousands of videos out there now of people playing a lot of notes very cleanly but for many of those people – that’s the extent of their skill set.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but having sat in auditions and rehearsals with players that just didn’t have the ability to play anything other than those riffs and solos that they worked out, it became a problem in a larger context of – what are you trying to do musically?

I’ve met many, many players (and former players) who were frustrated because they didn’t reach some arbitrary goal in an equally arbitrary time frame.

“Yeah….I’d love to be able to sweep and I practiced it a bunch for like a month but I just can’t do it.”

When it comes to practicing, perhaps the best advice I can give anyone is to try to surrender to to process of developing a skill set and not get hung up on the end goal.  Players who get hung up on the final product of what they’re doing (like being able to play a certain lick at a certain tempo by a certain time) are typically the ones who reach a frustration threshold and bail on it.

For example: I’m about to record some more solo acoustic material.  Originally, I wanted to track these tings as quickly as possible, but instead I decided to just work on the pieces consistently and adopt the motto of, “It is what it is. – Whatever rate I progress at this is the rate that it progresses.”

By taking away a strict time frame of when I “should” have everything down – I started focusing much more on the nuances of each piece an the things that actually made the pieces more musical.  Now, quite a bit later, the pieces have all developed and matured in ways that I could never have expected and I can communicate them in a much more sincere manner to a listener.  That sincerity is the most efficient way to make that communication with the listener which is the end goal.

Was it the most efficient manner to get the notes under my fingers?  Probably not.  Was it the most effective way to reach my end goal?  Absolutely.

So if you’re someone who gets frustrated with practice, try to think about this idea of enjoying the process of learning something new and being as musical in each moment of practice that you can be.

You play what you practice – so if you can practice in a musical way, you’re much more likely to play in a musical way as well.

Also, one thing I’ve been really focused on in the last year is gratitude and not taking things for granted.  I am so grateful that I can make music and in being grateful that I can do something it makes it a lot easier to approach practice in that mindset as well.  It might be a little woo-woo for some people but – believe me – audiences pick up on it as well.  For a number of years I practiced in a pissed off manner and played that way and let’s just say it didn’t make for a lot of repeat customers. ; )

So there’s a rambling post reflecting on last night’s gig on a Saturday morning!  Hopefully it’ll be of some help to you!

As always, thanks for reading.


Addendum: for some of the deepest wisdom about this and related topics check out part 2 of my interview with Miroslav Tadic here.

Doing Something Versus Getting Something Done

Has this happened to you?

One thing I run into with students very often is a common sense that while they’re playing a lot or have played for years that their playing never got any better.  Perhaps some of you have come across the same thing.

Generally they’ve confused doing something with getting something done.

Here’s the difference:

Buying a gym membership is doing something.

Going to the gym and getting a good work out accomplished is getting something done.

A golf story:

I’ve only been to a golf course once and I didn’t like it so feel free to take the following observations with a grain of salt.

One thing I noticed on the course was that most players weren’t very good. (I’m being kind in my description here – awful would be a more appropriate term for what I saw.)  We’re talking about players that couldn’t approach par – but – and this was the part that was shocking to me – some of these guys had been playing for 20-30 years!

It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but eventually I figured out that they were following Einstein’s model of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  For example, let’s say one player learned a basic stroke from another player.  Well, what had happened was this player never examined what they were doing.  He simply learned the stroke and then repeated it over and over with the assumption that since the stroke must be “right” that it was simply a matter of mastering it.  So he went out and hit thousands of balls for hours on end over the course of years using the same poor stroke over and over again and then wondered why he wasn’t getting any better.  A lot of these guys there talked about new clubs and more expensive gear – but the issue wasn’t the gear – it was poor muscle memory that came about from ingraining a bad practice model!

There are a number of things that separate professional and amateur players – but here’s a big one that I’ve noticed in a lot of pro (and pro level) players that isn’t intuitive:

Pro players don’t tend to operate on some of the assumptions that amatuer players have.

For example – Many times when I’m teaching a lesson to a beginning or intermediate player who wants to get into lead playing I’ll bring up the major scale and nine times out of ten, they’re completely dismissive and say, “Oh I already know that.” and proceed to play it in one octave in position.  I’ll start taking the student through the paces of the scale, “just humor me…” and within 5 minutes or so most of them realize that they don’t know the scale as well as they thought they did.

“The tyranny of the shoulds”

One related lesson I had to teach myself involved getting rid of the “shoulds” in my thinking.  Should is an amateur concept.  “I’ve been playing arpeggios for the last day, I should be able to play this other form ( even though I haven’t practiced it before) because it’s also an arpeggio – and I know those!”  “I can play sextuplets at 120 so I should be able to play this sextuplet at the same speed.”  Pro players move away from should and focus on can.

Can I play this?
If not, why not?
What do I have to do to play it better?

Pro players examine WHY something isn’t working and then address it.

The dojo story

I saw a Karate demonstration once.  While the young guys were showing off the flashiest moves they had, the master was in back doing Kata – which (in a reprehensible over simplification) are the basic starting points for the style.  in other words, fundamentals.

Guess what happened to the flashy kids in the demonstration?  Strewn all over the place.

Everything you do on guitar is based on cumulative development.  The better you can execute basic techniques, the better you’ll be able to adapt to new techniques as they’re thrown at you.

That means really being present in practicing.  Really focusing on hand tension, timing and tone and using the “Do – Observe – Correct” model to make sure you’re practicing it the right way.  Pro players do what it takes to make things better.  Sometimes that’s practicing something at a VERY rudimentary level to make sure that it’s  fundamentally sound before trying to get it up to tempo.  In other words, they’re willing to humble themselves and do some (often) unglamorous work that other people aren’t willing to do.

A lot of players who play guitar have been playing the same tunes the same ways for the last 30 years and then never wonder why they don’t get better.  If you’re one of those people, don’t assume that a new guitar will make it better.  It might be as simple as taking a lesson and getting a handle on what you’re doing wrong and developing a proper methodology and practice schedule to get something done towards achieving your playing goals.  It may require getting out of a comfort zone – but that’s where the rewards are!.

That’s it for now!  I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!


Practicing With Intent Or You Play What You Know

Hi Everyone!

I’ve been doing a lot of research for the book on practicing I’ve been threatening to release.  As part of that process, I’ve been examining various routines, rituals and regrets in my own regimen (and non-regimens) that I’ve adopted over the years and come back to the following conclusions.

  • People listen to music because they like it, but they go to see music or seek out music because they want to experience something and they want to feel something.
  • As musicians our job then is to communicate something.  The easiest way to do that is to do so with intent.  The easiest way to communicate with intent is to do so with authority and conviction.  Conviction comes from conveying what we know.
  • Practicing then is the process of transforming material from exposure to conception and then from conception to knowledge.

The (Please get me out of this) Blues Jam Example

For example, let’s say you’re sitting in with some musicians that you’ve never played with before.  What’s the first thing that you all try to do?  Find some common ground to play on.  For most rock player’s this will involve a rock standard (like a Led Zeppelin track) or a blues.  For the purposes of this argument, let’s say it’s a blues.

You learn a lot about people from how they play a blues.  How they comp and solo, how they utilize the form, how they support and drive other players.

Now, in this situation – how many times has the following happened to you?

It comes for your time to comp and all the hip voicings and cool comping ideas you have have gone out the window and you play the same chord voicings you always play.

It comes time to solo and all those cool things you’ve been shedding make a single (or no) appearance and you play the same licks you always do.

And you reflect on it later and think what happened there?

What happened was, you generally play what you know.

Let’s say you go to a job interview and you’re meeting with a prospective employer.

  • Are you going to launch into a free form association of how the color of the walls remind you of  when you would lay on your back in the fields on a warm summer’s day and gaze at the sky from your early days growing up on the farm or
  • are you going to talk about your skill sets and how they fit the position, answer the answers you’ve practiced for the questions that you know they’re going to ask and use all of your language skills to answer any questions you weren’t prepared for in a way that didn’t blow your chances at getting the position out of the water?

In stressful positions, we look for the familiar to help guide us through the unfamiliar.  In a performance situation, it’s very difficult to really be in the moment (i.e. setting the stage for an emotional connection with the audience) and have the presence of mind to think, “Hey maybe that symmetrical diminished thing would fit here.”

Practicing With Intent

What got me thinking about all of this was a lesson with a student where his playing was always quiet and reserved – even when he was trying to play aggressively.  It turned out that he practiced quietly at home and never practiced playing aggressively.  Where I end up seeing a lot of students is in making the distinction that playing loudly does not have to mean playing with excessive hand tension.

If you don’t practice being able to play at various degrees of emotional intensity, then you probably won’t be able to summon it on the stage.  There are scads of metal players who play a lot of notes, and there’s nothing behind them.  In contrast, I go back to this video:

of a 21 year old Yngwie Malmsteen just killing it with a live set of Alcatrazz.  The interesting change in perception for me came after reading his memoir and discovering just how deliberate his practicing was.  He practiced everything with the intent of playing it live.  It was all played with maximum intent, and that came across in every solo that he did.

There’s so much to experience, so much to learn and so little we will ever comparatively know.  Try to be mindful of both how and why you are practicing everything and make sure you bring it to the stage when you’re playing.  If you practice with intent, you’re more likely to play that way as well.

As always, thanks for reading!


The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes – Part 14 Not-peggios – Melodic Minor Version

Hey everyone,

As promised, here’s a follow-up lesson that takes the approach I explored in Part 13 and applies it to the Melodic Minor scale.

I’ll use C Melodic Minor in this case – but this idea will work on any root.


Before we get too far into the lick side of this let’s look at the chords to see what we can play this over.

Here are the diatonic triads and 7th chords.


Try playing any of the following C Melodic Minor shapes over any of these chords..

Some Melodic Minor Notes:

  • Melodic Minor is an old scale.  Originally it was played as melodic minor when ascending but natural minor when descending.  Not a whole lot of people perform it that way in Jazz circles but mixing and matching the two can have some interesting sounds (i.e. it’s something you should consider experimenting with if this area interests you and you haven’t already).
  • Melodic Minor is a Dominant machine.  If you check out the harmonization above you’ll see that Melodic Minor has two 7th chords in it’s harmonization.  As Jazz standards use a LOT of dominant devices – this is a scale you’ll want to investigate if you have an even remote interest in Jazz.
  • Melodic Minor is a weird sound.  Yes it is.  The I chord is a minor (maj7) chord and that whole b3 mixed with the natural 6th and 7th makes for some interesting moments.  The only metal guy I knew who was really into that sound was David Chastain and he was doing instrumental stuff that didn’t really sound like anyone else. (Hint – this is worth exploring if you’re a rock or metal guy)
  • Hip trick alert:  since the ii chord is a minor chord -try playing C Melodic Minor lines over Bb Minor as well!


Now let’s talk about visualizing the scale.

“You take the good you take the bad – you flat the third and there you have…”

Melodic Minor

I’ve talked about my approach to Melodic Minor briefly in part 9 of this series – but as a brief review:

Major Scale/Modal Visualization Review

  • The guitar fingerboard can be divided into 3 sets of two strings. Any 2-string fingering pattern that starts on the B string can be moved to the same starting pitch on the D or the low E string and keep the same fingering.
  • The major scale can be broken down into seven two-string modes that follow a specific order based on its scale degree from the parent scale (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian). The two-string patterns are modular and can be adapted to positional playing.
  • Instead of thinking of individual modes when playing,  I tend to think of larger tonal systems (i.e. I think of C Major all over the fingerboard instead of D Dorian or A Aeolian.)
  • By thinking of the fingerboard in a larger scale – it makes it easier for me to navigate Melodic and Harmonic Minor as – solely from a fingering/sonic visualization standpoint – I just see it as variations of the Major scale patterns.

To visualize Melodic Minor patterns – simply flat the 3rd of the Parent Major scale. (i.e. to visualize C Melodic Minor just play C major but change every E  to Eb).

It’s important to note that all of the fingering conventions mentioned here are solely to assist with visualization as Melodic and Harmonic Minor really aren’t directly related to the Major scale sonically.

Here’s C Major

Here’s the audio.


In all the audio examples, I’ve played the example first as sextuplets – then at a slower tempo (i.e. 16ths) – then as sextuplets again.

Here’s C Melodic Minor

(the only difference is that the E has been changed to Eb)



Melodic Minor short cuts:

Using the Parent Major patterns above here’s a list of short cut’s to help you visualize the patterns.


Note: in the F Lydian shape – there’s no change from the major shape since there’s no Eb in the 2-string pattern.





Now let’s take this not-peggio idea from the last lesson and apply it to C melodic minor starting from G.

In each of the following I’ll show the 2-string pattern followed by the 4-note “notpeggio” extraction from that fingering and then show the multi octave form.

Note:  The extraction always starts from the second note of the 6-note pattern – so while the first example is extracted from the F Lydian fingering – it’s viewed as a G based pattern.

From G

G based pattern

Note: this G pattern is the same as the C major G shape.

From A

A based pattern

Note: this is a new shape from the Major patterns. The R-b3-4th-b5 shape may remind you of the A blues scale.

From B

B based pattern

Note: this is also a new shape from the Major patterns. The R-b3-b4th-b5 shape is something you may want to explore over diminished chords.

From C

C based pattern

Note: this C pattern shape is the same as the A minor form from C major.

From D

D based pattern

Note: this D pattern shape is also the same as the A minor form from C major.  This shape and the C minor shape above on their own really won’t give you much of the Melodic Minor flavor on their own – but alternating between the two of them will.  More on that in a future lesson.

From Eb

Eb based pattern

Note: this is a new shape from the Major patterns. The Eb Maj7 (#5) based pattern has been deconstructed into almost a whole-tone idea.  This is one of my favorite “outside” sounds in this scale.

From F

F based pattern

Finally,  this F pattern shape is the same as the F Lydian form from C major.

Here’s an audio sample of the 3/4 measures in ascending order from G

Next TIme?

In the next lesson I’ll look at applying this to Harmonic Minor and then I’ll look at working through these ideas positionally (Spoiler Alert – this is where this approach gets really cool!!).
As always, focus on the 3 T’s (Timing, Tone and hand Tension) when playing through these and make sure to have the timing locked in as you increase the metronome speed.  This approach is just a short cut to getting the patterns under your fingers.  By practicing them slowly and increasing the performance tempo gradually, you’re also getting the sound of them in your head – which is critical if they’re something you want to integrate in your playing!
As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading!
– SC
PS – One plug here.  If you like this idea – I go MUCH deeper into similar concepts in my Guide to Chord Scales book – which covers every unique melodic combination from 3 notes to 12-note scales!!
Print editions of this book are available  on or on Amazon (, or

Two Black and Bluegrass Licks To Get You Out Of A Session

Hey Everyone!


This lesson is a continuation of the same technical concept behind the sweep picking Pentatonic Minor/Blues scale lesson I posted earlier.  If you like this approach, you may like that lesson as well (links at the bottom of the page).


Today I have not one but TWO licks that go together like peanut butter and an ashtray.  Both of these are transitional licks leading back into key of G (The bluegrassiest of all keys) and while they probably won’t get you beat up (hence the black and bluegrass) or kicked out of a session – they might turn a head or two!


Here’s the first lick (in the video it’s played at 120 bpm – first as triplets then sextuplets):


(Note: fingerstyle players can play the 3-note groups as p-i-m)




And here it is in notation and tab:


Lick #1

Now, let me explain a little about what going on here.  This is a transitional lick that resolves to G that uses different G-based chords starting from G, Bb and Db (aka G diminished).


The first chord is a G7 (add 13).  Originally, I was going to use a straight descending 1 note-per string scale version of G Mixolydian (i.e. G, F, E, D, C, B, A) but – while the first three notes sounded great:


The spread wasn’t an easy one to get in to or out of cleanly.  So I cheated it and used the D instead, grabbing the E on the B string keeping the D and adding a B on the D-string.


If you remove the E, you have a nice voicing for a G7 chord starting from the 3rd, but for melodic playing it’s easier to arpeggiate the chord as 3 note groups.


The next chord is a G min 7 starting from the b3rd.  It uses the same picking pattern as the first arpeggio:


Then the lick jumps from the D to Db to start the G min7b5 (add11) arpeggio.  That might sound exotic – but it’s just 4 notes from the G Blues scale (G, Bb, C, Db and F).



Finally, it ends up with a G major triad with an added b3rd (a useful bluegrass cliché.  For even more of a bluegrass sound, add the E on the 12th fret E string between the D and the G).


Technical Considerations 


1.  As with the sweep picking blues pentatonic lesson, keeping the notes staccato (i.e. taking the finger pressure off the string after each note is played) will help with articulation. 


2.  The biggest challenge with this lick will probably be taming the open D string when you switch from the 3-string D-G-B pattern back to the top three strings.  Use pick hand muting to mute the D string once you play the first note on the high E string – and try practicing the lick as 9-note groupings to work that transition.





Lick #2


Lick #2 is just silly – but it’s a fun idea and it’s a great way to work on the 3-string picking pattern.  




The lick is based on this idea:



This lick is just the first notes of lick #1 with a chromatically descending pattern based on the last three notes.  All I’ve done in lick #2 is chromatically ascend and then descend again like so:


Just use the same techniques that you used in getting the first lick down and pay attention to the 3 T’s (timing, (hand) tension and (quality of) tone and you’ll be fine.  (and remember – slow and steady wins the race here with regards to practice gains!)


This one-note per string scale idea is taken from the last section of my Melodic Patterns book so if this area interest you, you may want to check that book out.  You can find out more about it here.


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




If you like this approach, I have 2 books you may be interested in:



My Pentatonic Visualization Book


Minor Pent Front


is 100 + pages of licks and instruction and includes demonstrations and breakdowns of two-string fingerings, diagonal pentatonics, sweep picking pentatonics, pentatonic harmony and much more!  It’s available here.


My Melodic Patterns Book:




(available on Lulu or on Amazon) has a complete break down of all note-per-string scale variations which include the 2 above.  In the meantime, give this approach a try with other scales as well.  In the next sweep picking acoustic lesson – I’ll adapt this to a bluegrass lick that you might find cool.