Tuesday, April 15, 2008



I've been getting a lot of email lately. It makes me feel important. Ha ha!

I live about twenty minutes outside of Washington, DC. I can often see the Washington Monument in my rearview mirror. It's nifty. So it's cool to hear from guys in Asia, Europe, or wherever they might live, asking theory questions. It really is a small world.

I'll be answering an email in this blog, so hopefully everyone can benefit from the answer. It's sort of like "Dear Abby," but without the dear, and without the housewife garbage. Ha! Call it..."Yo Josh."

Hello Mr. Urban,
I've been reading your articles on ultimateguitar.com, and I want to thank you a bunch for summarizing plenty of confusing theory. Personally, I understood everything up to key signatures, but started getting lost around the circle of fifths.
In fact, I'm still working out what you mean in The Crusade, Part 9 & 10.
Anyway, I'm sending you this email to ask you for some advice, and possibly help with improvisation. Just last night I was hosting an event, and I went backstage to take a breather and check on my performers.
Now, yours truly has been learning guitar for nearly 3 years, but only recently got serious about it and started taking exams.
So, I walk into the room and find 2 out of the 3 guitarists asleep, and one fiddling about with his guitar. It was an acoustic performance, by the way. The guitarist that was awake happened to be my classmate. He invited me to just pick up a classical guitar and play along with him.
I'm no stranger to scales, appregios, and whatnot, but I always practised on my own and rarely had anyone else to play with. The only other time I jammed with someone else was with my teacher, who is now focused on preparing me for exams, and introducing other fundamentals to me. It took me about half a minute to get the key signature, and then I managed to work up a pattern that sounded mostly alright. But I really wished I could have done better.
Therefore, I have this to ask of you: Do you have any backing tracks that I could use to get me more prepared for jamming sessions? I realise that the best way to do this is with a fellow musician, or even with a band. Unfortunately, I think I need to improve on my own skills before I can go around asking others to help me out.
Any advice that you can provide would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance, poodleman.
"Harry Smith" (All names changed to protect the innocent!)

Yo "Harry!"

Thanks for your email. I did some looking around, and found a SICK site for you to check out! www.guitarbackingtrack.com

It's incredible. Check out the Ozzy Osbourne section! They've got a great track for "Perry Mason." (I love that song, too.)

If you want to plunk down a chunk of change, and can find it on eBay, I highly recommend the Boss JS-5 Jamstation. It's a "band in a box" , loaded with a bunch of presets, but you can program the chords and tempo however you like.

Speaking of a "Band in a Box," there's actually some software out there called just that very thing. Google it, and see what you can find. One of my students just got it, and he'll be giving me a demo this week.

One more thing - be aware that a lot of songs don't fit neatly into one key. To quote one of my teachers, a song is a collection of chords that the composer liked.

To prepare yourself for jam sessions, I would suggest spending time with the blues. Most musicians jam on the 12-bar blues, as it's such a great vehicle for a jam. Learn the pattern, and the pentatonic scales that go over it. If you learn it in one key, you know it in every key! That's the beauty of the guitar. All you need to do is slide it up or down a few frets if the other musicians decide to play in a different key.

Search around for some jam tracks on that site I mentioned, and try googling some other sites.

Keep up the good work, and keep asking guitar players questions. The worst they say is "get lost." You'll find most to be helpful, friendly, and most willing to share.

Best of luck!



Joe said...

I like to play over any old song and pretend the band/artist just hired me to compose/improvise a new guitar part. Doing this with a radio station like Pandora or Last.fm gets me playing over songs I've never heard. I'm sure that would help your friend if he's trying to lock into a jam quickly.

Rick said...

You can't forget http://www.guitarbt.com/
I've gotten quite a bit off of that one too. I'm not sure if there is much overlap but there are really good ones on there and some really bad ones haha! SRV's texas flood is great, vocals and all!

www.guitarbackingtrack.com is good too, thanks!

justin.chowhw@gmail.com said...

I'm aware of the "band in a box" tool, although the most I've ever spent with it was about 20 minutes. And I can't, for the life of me, remember what it was called.

But thanks for introducing me to http://www.guitarbackingtrack.com/.

The axe is a really magical instrument. Thank you, Josh!