Monday, December 31, 2007


It's that time 'o year again, people!

Time for resolution.

So what are you gonna accomplish in '08? Make sure you vote, for starters! (I mean it!)

Are you gonna get fit? Practice more? Get that gig? Boy, oh boy, I'm looking forward to 2008. I just ordered a new computer, so hopefully you'll get some podcasts and video lessons thrown your way!

But dude, I am talkin' to you. What are you gonna do? And what the heck are you waiting for?

Resolutions are cliche, but following one is not. Since it is our goal to rock, to be extraordinary, to be great, following, and adhering to a resolution is a great way to start.

Just think what a better player you can be if you add an hour a day to your practice routine this year!

Happy New Year! Now go do something.

PS. Don't forget to check out Jimi's version of "Auld Lang Syne."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Uh, oh!

I hope everyone had a great holiday! I sure did...I was the recipient of a very cool hat. You'll be seeing it later.

But on to serious business. Did you hear that the makers of Hello Kitty have a new marketing scheme up their sleeves? They're trying to make the products appeal to young males...I mean, young males would wear the stuff. They're trying to make Hello Kitty macho. They say they've made it's face a bit more rugged looking.

Ha ha! I'm sure I'll see the gangstas wearing big over sized Hello Kitty jackets, or perhaps all the "Mall core" kids will swap out their ubiquitous slipknot shirts for some HK apparel.

The scary thing is...It will probably happen. I've seen big tough guys wearing stuff that my Grandmother would buy, and little punks donning enough material to rig a sailboat.

What marketing says, goes, and that's a proven fact. (But I do think the Hello Kitty stuff is gonna be a tough sell, tho!)

So what does this have to do with music? A lot! The lesson: If you say something with enough conviction, or play something with enough conviction, it will go. The power is in your hands, if you believe it.

Let's draw some parallels here. I got Mom the third season of The Mary Tyler Moore show for Christmas. Have you looked at a 70's era show lately? Man, they have some ridiculous haircuts!
But it was the cutting edge of fashion, something that someone decided was "cool," and so it was. (Even though it looked like Mary was wearing a large cat for a hat.)

Our music parallel could be...Angus Young of AC/DC decides to wear schoolboy suits while he's taking over the world.

Everyone thinks it's awesome. But would you have the guts to do that?

It seems that if you don't carry it through with 110% conviction, then it's utterly stupid. But if you pull it off, and have that 110% confidence, it's utterly cool.

This might seem difficult. But it's just in your mind, and your attitude. Like everything else.

The question for you today is: Are you going to be the trend follower - or setter?
It could be in presentation on stage, musical style, technique, tone, songwriting, you name it! It's as cool as you say it is, and only as cool as you say it is.

Rock on!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Thought for the Day

Here's your thought for the day:

How much of our lives do we live slave to fear?

That's a pretty philosophical question, so let's zoom in to our playing: How much of our playing is safe, calculated, and fear based?

Figure it out.

See ya soon!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The sounds of the season

Boy, I love being self employed!

I'm sitting by a wood stove right now, and across the room, my Mom and Brothers are working on their own business.

It's a beautiful season, and it's filled with wondrous sounds. .

There's the holiday tunes. Timeless music, given a rock 'n roll twist, or a jazzy vibe, fills the air. But outside is where the real magic is. We often overlook it...Because it's darn cold out there!

But there's that muffled winter sound. Life is working hard at surviving, and the air chills and lends a seriousness to the bustle of the squirrels in the woods. The Juncos have arrived, busy along the side of the road, cheeping quietly as they pick up grit. The White-Throated Sparrows are also in town, rummaging through the leaves like old ladies at a yard sale. Cars clatter up the street, engines complaining about the tardiness of the sluggish oil to reach all components of the machine.

And then there's the silence. The space that allows these sounds to be. I especially like the silence of a snowfall. There's a hushed whispering as the snowflakes fall, almost as if they each carry a globe of stillness with them through the winter air, to land and accumulate into a mass of stillness.

Listen next time you're out and about. You'll like what you hear...or don't hear, for that matter.

Rock on!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Corporate man

It's official!

I'm now a Liability Limited Company! Woohoo! I am now "Rock God Music, LLC." Nice.

It's shaping up to be a great 2008. I will be adding an instructional part to my website,, and for my local clients, things are really gonna rock with the new guitar club!

But now, back to philosophy and learning.

I went up to DC the other night. I got jumped, and some black guy soul!

Let me explain...

A client of mine, Doc, and his wife Sherry, gave me a very generous Christmas present. They bought me tickets to see the Trans Siberian Orchestra!

Wow, what a show. If you've never seen TSO before, you owe it to yourself to go next year. They're a rock band, plus a classical string section, plus grade A singers. They play classical Christmas tunes with a rock spin. Set in an arena, with superb lighting and pyrotechnics, their show is not to be missed. They rock!

Well, they had this soul singer. He sang an incredible rendition of "Hark, the Herald." It took my breath, and soul, away. So that's what I mean when I say I got jumped.

I'm not quite sure how he did it. And if we examine all the greats, it's very hard to pinpoint.

All of your favorites can probably be matched in skill by the goofs down at the local guitar shop. Walk through the guitar department on a Saturday afternoon, and you'll see guys who can play as fast as Eddie, weave lines like Wes, and cry like Stevie.

But they still don't sound like 'em. We can deduce that technique alone isn't the defining factor.
And neither is ear, or theory, for that matter.

So what is it? Well, I don't know for sure, but I think two factors have a great deal to do with it.

and Communication.

would be the story we want to tell. The heartbreak, the suffering, the joy, the anger, we wish to convey.

Communication would be the means to do so. This is our technique, our command of the musical language. For I think it is a language, and we need to be able to "talk" to communicate.

Intention, in my book, is the most important. I think players like some of the less technically able greats fall into this category. Take someone like Muddy Waters, an undisputed master of the blues genre. He certainly didn't have the chops of Steve Vai, but man, his intention was there, and that shone through with an unquenchable fire.

Communication without intention yields the fluff found at guitar shops on Saturday afternoons.
But Communication with intention creates guitar heroes. This is why I consider it important to practice and feel.

A great debate rages around the chops vs. soul question. I think you can have both.

In other words, drawing a parallel to the English language, Charles Dickens, a shredder of the paper, certainly doesn't lack for feeling. But I use big words, and I certainly am no Dickens!
And on the other side, a few lines scribbled from the trenches of war can be just as poignant as any of the great works.

The good news is: I think Intention and Communication are two very separate skills. Practice your arpeggios, and really start to care about life.

Have a story to tell, and the ability to tell it.

Rock on!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Approaching a Standard

Christmas time is here! (And a bunch of other neat holidays!) And so is the music of the season.
Which leads me to the next thought on the Josh Mental Institution Express Train (of thought)....

Rock musicians might not be very familiar with the term "standard." More commonly used in a jazz language, it refers to a song that's akin to Smoke on the Water or Iron Man. Made popular by countless performances by musicians over the years, and oft requested, a standard is a nifty vehicle to...Remix!

Do a search on Autumn Leaves, a popular jazz standard. While sophisticated jazz musicians may roll their eyes when asked to play this tune, it's been played so many different ways it's mind boggling! From original jazz takes, to bebop flavors, latin grooves, and even folk renditions. (Check out Eva Cassidy's soul gripping rendition to see what I mean.)

The twofold fun of standards includes the original beauty of the song, plus the creative license granted to the artist to make it uniquely theirs in some way.

In this season of winter, twinkling lights, and the mad rush for the deal on the big screen TV, an opportunity awaits the creative musician.

Christmas carols are some of the most popular standards of all! Why not try rockin' some? Or jazzin' some?

There's plenty of tabs, sheet music, and chord charts available. I usually approach a standard by learning it "the right way" first (how it was intended to be played,) and then start tweaking things.

Jingle Bell Rock sounds great when it's...rockin'! Christmas Time is Here is a very nice candidate for a jazz revamp. The chart I have already has extended chords (9ths, 11ths, etc), and I continue that train of thought.

The Trans Siberian Orchestra has made a gazillion bucks from Carol of the Bells, and given how good their rock 'n classical version is, they deserve every penny!

For you advanced players, Christmas and other holiday tunes offer a great opportunity to reharmonize the chord progressions, making a simple tune sophisticated, or vice versa.

For players of any level, "remixing" these holiday standards can be great fun, and superb practice for applying many skills of musicianship. (And another good reason to work on your music reading!)

Have fun! By the way, don't forget to check out these CD's for inspiration. You should own 'em anyway. They're incredible!
Rock on!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

You can!

Greetings, rockers! Someone emailed me a few days ago feeling discouraged about learning the guitar. So, I've written a story...Enjoy!

A kid walked into the guitar shop. His shaggy wannabe hair inadvertently matched the old raggedy jeans jacket, ratty shoes, and out of style jeans. Intimidation seemed to lurk behind the brightly colored electric guitars, hide in the jar of picks, and masquerade as the salesmen.

He tersely asked "got any acoustic guitars?" It was his fourteenth birthday in a few days, and he was out shopping with his Dad. The other music store didn't have what they were looking for, and they had decided to go to the rock store. Unattainable skill and knowledge seemed to scent the air, mixing with the aroma of new electronic equipment. Amplifiers sat squatly on the shelves, ready to blow the face of anyone who dared mess with 'em. And it was with trepidation that the Kid entered.

He found his acoustic guitar. And he saw that the store had lessons. How cool. Other students looked like talented goth vampires, walking in and out with their guitar cases covered with bumper stickers. He signed up. He learned. He listened. And much to his astonishment, he discovered that he could play!

Every week, he would buy a dollar's worth of guitar picks as a reward for practicing. The folks at the counter surely earned three halos for putting up with his insistence that he find just the right ones. (Actually, one of them earned a lamp, but that's another story.)

The years went by, and the kid grew up slightly. He played in bands. He practiced. He got better. He got a job teaching guitar at that very store. And he saw others like him, enter the door with an intimidated look, and ask "Got any cool guitars?" And he says, with a twinkle of knowing and relation in his eyes... "yes! Try this one out - you're gonna be great some day."
And you've probably guessed by now, but I'm the (22 year old) kid.

I teach for a living, and I've helped hundreds of folks learn to play the guitar. I know how you feel. Walking into that guitar shop, I never thought I'd be teaching there someday. It seemed as if everyone knew what they were doing, and I'd never be able to join them.


I think anyone can learn to play the guitar. And you can, too. ;)

I also think anyone can be good if they really want to. It's not magic. It's just work.

How to start? I really like books. (And I'm a teacher! I'm putting myself out of business...)
I highly recommend "Guitar for Dummies." Once you get a few things under your fingers, find yourself a good teacher. (You can start with a teacher, too!) If they make you feel bad, stupid, small, or just dumb, find another one. Remember, they're working for you, not the other way around!

Find one that inspires you, encourages you, and most of all, makes it fun!

And pretty soon, you'll be rockin'. You can.

(And of course, if you just can't get something, drop me an email!
And if you're in the Washington, DC area, I offer private lessons.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Warming up

Parallels are nifty. I'm always drawing on food analogies to explain concepts to my students.
"Soloing is like baking a blueberry pie" I'll often say, referring to the combinations of ingredients (a scale) to create a finished piece of artwork.

I also dig parallels of different disciplines. Today's special? Weight training.

Now, for those of you who know me, you know I'm obviously no expert, or the skinniest bodybuilder out there. (However, I assure you, it's the former.) But, hopefully that will change! Armed with Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding" I'm well on my way to someday benching...fifty pounds.

All joking aside, The "Governator" stresses the importance of warming up in order to avoid injury and gain maximum benefit from a training session.

And that's the same with the guitar. While diminished arpeggios don't always present the same danger of injury as deadlifting an elephant, us musicians would do well to heed Arnold's advice on stretching. I find that warming up can be a limiting factor on my top speed and agility on stage.

My pre-practice routine involves stretching my arms, hands, and fingers. Hold the pose for thirty seconds or so, and add massages to really "turbocharge" your hands. Flapping my hands around a la Chicken Little and hollering "The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The spice girls just announced a reunion tour! Arrgh!" is also helpful. It's suggested you do this before you even pick up a guitar for the day.

Some musicians then play very difficult material next, others warm up gradually. Experiment, and find what works for you.

Don't forget to stretch during your practice or performance, either. "Shaking out" tension in my hands during difficult practice sessions can be very helpful in the pursuit of excellence (and world shred domination!) Again, the "Chicken Little" technique of flapping your arms and hands around in a panicked, grandmotherly fashion is great for this. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Rock on!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Farewell, Hot Licks Guitar Shop

Greetings, interstellar travelers. Be warned, I'm breaking my rule of a non self-centered blog...Cause I'm in a reminiscing mood today. And if you don't frequent Hot Licks Guitar Shop, you might be booored...

It's hard to believe that today is my last day teaching at Hot Licks Guitar Shop.

I'm moving my teaching business to a new studio space, and today marks the last day of my term as a Staff Guitar Instructor at Hot Licks.

It's been fun. I've had the honor of working alongside musicians such as Mike "walking encyclopedia" Stacey, Todd Rhodes, Anthony Wellington of the Victor Wooten Band, Mark Foster, jazz bassist extraordinaire, my first guitar teacher Joe Palchak, John Fortier (you should see his Hendrix tattoo!), Mark Lewis, Randy Runyon, and Kenn Taylor of DC Star...And of course a great drum department with guys like George Jones, KJ Baker, and Matt Strain.

I also enjoyed having access to a wall of guitars to try out, and bothering the guys up front! Thanks, guys, for your patience.

It was a great environment to learn in. Everyone had a different point of view with music, and you'd hear 'em practicing those views. I learned a lot about jazz, amps, theory, and most importantly, business.

I'd like to say "Thanks" to everyone who's helped me out, and shown me stuff. I'll be walking out the doors of Hot Licks a (hopefully) wiser player with some great memories.

I'm off to build my empire. So long, Hot Licks Guitar Shop. It was fun! Thank you.

(By the way, my new location is 3195 Old Washington Road, Waldorf, MD. So if you're looking for the empire...You'll know where it is! I'm having an open house on Saturday, December 1st, from 12-4pm at the new location. Stop on by and check it out!)

Monday, November 26, 2007

If it's crazy...


Man, I've been swamped lately. But in the midst of my running around like a poultry who has endured an unfortunate meeting with a sharp object, I've got this for ya:

If it's must be on the right track!

Lookin' cool and composed is what audience members do, folks.

If you feel like a means you're not a spectator, and in the world of entertainment, this is good.

All the world's a stage, and if you feel stupid, awkward, and "this is gonna bomb..." You're on the right track.

Otherwise, you're probably playing it too safe. Jump out, and be the center of attention!

(And make sure your guitar's in tune...)

Rock on!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A new face of gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving, Rockers!

Thanksgiving is a neat day. I used to dislike it - no presents involved. (Of course, I just got an early Christmas present last night, and that should keep me thankful all year! Thanks, Doc!)

But as the years have gone by, the idea has dawned on me of - "Hey, this is a day to be thankful! Even without presents!"

A death occured in my family a few days ago. Suddenly, the season seems filled with darkness and sadness. So much pain. But, as odd as it sounds, Thanksgiving could not come at a better time for me.

I am so grateful for everything in my life. This misfortune has shown me how lucky I truly am. And what an ideal day to reflect on that.

It won't take away the sadness, loss, and mourning. But it will show me exactly where I'm at.
And that's a good thing to know.

So what the idea, lesson, insight?

First off, even if you're in a sugar coma, or stuffed to the gills with a peculiar waddling bird people choose to eat, find some time today to feel truly grateful.

Now, that might be tricky, especially if you see a lot of bad stuff in the near future. But try this: focus on the moment right now. And feel happy for that. If that doesn't work, eat some more stuffing, and try again. ;)

Secondly, next time you pick up your guitar, sit quietly with it for a minute. Be grateful for it. Really look at it. Then, play. And play with a song of gratitude, like a bird singing the sun up.

(err...A heavy metal bird yelling the sun up...)

And Happy Thanksgiving.

All the best,

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mass crowd control...


I am an evil sonic scientist. I think I've found a way to control a crowd!

Actually, I'm not a mad doctor, and perhaps I've just figured out a way to help people.

But regardless, this lesson presented itself many years ago. Some people were over for dinner, and a fellow was giving my brother some advice on drum solos. He said that the best way to get people to listen is to play quiet. They'll lean in to say "what's this guy doing?"

Fast forward a few years to this weekend, on a dark and chilly night in Northwest DC. Halfway thru a solo gig, I was jamming away. The patrons of the venue were very interested in getting their food, and not very intent on the most happenin' guitar playin' on da block (mine!)

I tried to catch folks' ears with volume. They just talked louder. All of a sudden, I stopped playing. Then I played very quietly. People looked up....then went back to talking. Ah ha! A crack in the wall. Their train of thought, and the natural flow of monotony had been broken. Bingo.

I did it again, and while not a dazzling success, it did work. The dinner guest of years gone by knew his stuff, that's for sure.

Here's another way to visualize the concept. If you're at the beach, and the surf's up, you're just gonna holler louder. If Stevie Ray Vaughan came back from the gig in the sky, and stopped the waves suddenly, you'd stop talking, and look up in surprise at the sudden silence on the beach. When the Sea roars louder, so do we. But when it stops, we look up.

And speaking of the Ocean, I hear tell that some of the scariest times on the water, such as before a tsunami, are when the Sea is dead quiet. The calm before the storm.

Playing part of a song with a quiet intensity is a very mind-opening experience. I also find it difficult, but worth it. Try it for yourself, and see what you can come up with.

We seem to adjust for noise, but when it stops, we find our train of thought interrupted. (And, if you're like me, you'd also find the whole restaurant staring at you while you're hollering away in a suddenly quiet room!) Applying these concepts to our music just might help us rule the world with sound. Yeah, man!

In this new use of Dynamics, you might fall on your face a few times. But that's OK. After all, little kids quickly learn how to falling on their face.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pro Talk

Thank Jimi it's Friday!

Whew! What a week...I've got a gig tonight, I signed a lease for a new studio space, I resigned my current teaching position in order to move on to a new location (see the previous blog for details), and the autumn is a beautiful color.

But I said this was a non-self centered blog! So here's the lesson presented to me this week...

The musical universe is....Very, very small. Word, reputations, and gossip travels at twice the speed of light in this universe. (If you doubt me, two words should take care of it...Van Halen.)

Wanna give yourself an edge in the field? Want to be truly competitive, and the guy or gal that every band leader or sideman wants to work with?

Don't gossip. And don't badmouth.

If you fail to see the beauty of someone else's music...or even if they totally bomb...You really don't have to point that out! They know it, and if they don't, someone else will tell them, guaranteed. The world is full of cynics, why add to the mix? If someone really needs to know if a person is competent, you can tell them if they're not there yet without being petty. If The Blood 'n Guts band is looking for a new drummer, and they're asking you about Billy...And Billy ain't that great, PLUS he said your playing is awful...Don't grind an ax, just say "Well, Billy is still working some things out, and for me personally, I wouldn't hire him, but you should talk to him to figure that out."

Making a habit of not saying anything unnecessary is a super duper thing to do. It builds great respect, especially in an industry where people skills are still at the "Cro Magnum" mark.

And you know what? We've all bombed, and we know what it feels like. A "no gossip" policy is priceless. Do it. Today. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New Studio Location!

Heyyy folks!

This blog is intended for my clients, but you're certainly welcome to read it if you're not...

I just signed the lease on a new studio for teaching! I also just submitted my letter of resignation at Hot Licks Guitar Shop.

I will sincerely miss working at Hot Licks, and pestering the guys there. (I'm very good at that.) They've really helped me get to where I am today, and I will always have good memories of my tenure as a staff guitar instructor.

Things ended very well, and I will be finishing the month at the store. My last day teaching will be Thursday, November 29th.

The new location is just across the street - At the Southern Maryland Business Center. (Right across from the Food Lion on Old Washington Road.)

Boy, I'm excited! Y'all are gonna love the new studio. It's bigger, it has a window, and best of all, there's three conference rooms on the grounds that I'll have access to! Can you say "guitar club?" Or "PTA?"

By the way, speaking of a guitar club, it's my intention to start one. We'll watch guitar concert videos, check out gear, have fun, and maybe even learn some cool theory. The conference rooms have a projector, so we'll be able to watch Stevie Ray Vaughan burn down the El Macambo in a big way! If you've got any ideas for this club, just let me know.

I'll be open for business in December. I really hope to see y'all there! I will be calling each and every one of you to discuss this exciting new chapter in the Empire of Poodleman!

Stay tuned!

For now, rock on, and make sure your phone is nearby.

Friday, November 9, 2007

New solo project!

I've finally got a solo project going!

It's called The Front Porch Jamming Concept.

I like it. And I hope you do to! Check it out on Myspace!

I'll have a proper website up for it very soon as well.

And if ya dig it, add me to your friends list!

If you're in the DC area, let me know, and I'll keep you informed about upcoming shows.

Rock on!

Own the Ladder

Y'all are in trouble.

I'm reading financial books again.

Get ready for the barrage of wall street analogies, and me trying to be professional.

Has anyone read Rich Dad, Poor Dad? What a great book. It stirs up the evil capitalist that exists within me, and sets me plotting, scheming, and of course, lecturing. And have I got a good deal for you folks today!

What the heck does this have to do with music?

Well, I'd like to squarely tackle the baloney that my elders always spit in my face whenever I announce my career choice.

"You're best off getting a good, safe, secure job, and then do your music on the side."

In Rich Dad, Poor Dad, the author disagrees as much as I do with that statement, albeit for different reasons. He states that the traditional job is the reason that the poor and middle class stay stuck in the same financial position, working hard to make the government and the rich man richer. He says it's vital to mind your own business. Meaning - create your own business, take a different view of finances than the mob, and develop financial aptitude.

I read the book first thing in the morning, and then I go out jogging. I see the groggy commuters stumbling off to work, coffee cups glued to their faces, and well, after reading this book about thinking differently, it makes a profound impression.

Stock guru Jim Cramer says in his book Mad Money that you must take care of your money, because sadly, no one else will do it for you. Another case of minding your own business.

And in music, this is a DUH with a capital D. How many horror stories have we heard of rock stars going broke? Of managers, agents, and record labels ripping off the "poor artists?" Of starving artists?

OK, fellas, but if all we do is play guitar, and loudly proclaim we don't care about what happens with money, we're walking around with a big neon sign over our heads saying "Mug me!"

And the industry will.

Wow, this sounds pretty darn depressing. But check this:
If there's money involved, and people being ripped off, it sounds like....a business!

I was disappointed when I figured out that the music industry is just that, an industry.

But now I'm excited! If you want to rise to the top of the heap in software design, people don't say "oh, that's just lucky if you can pull that off." No! They say "better get up early!"

This is very exciting. If music is a business, that means that there's ways to get to the top!
And can artistry survive in business? Of course. Just think of the incredible art in advertising. How about the pure elegance of luxury cars? And so too with music. Just because we acknowledge a business side of it doesn't mean we've sold out, or thrown the life out of our art. No sir! It means that we're adding an exciting new field to our knowledge base.

By learning about business, the music industry, and how to manage our finances, we're liberating ourselves from financial ignorance.

This does not mean we have to be money hungry. Of course money will make a difference in life. We need it to survive. But we certainly don't want to step of folks to get it. Learning about
business, money, and the industry will only help us, and you know what? It's really cool!

Here's a few things to get you started. (I told you I had a good deal for you today!)

Consider buying these books:

One of my favorite ideas from Rich Dad, Poor Dad is when the author is advised by his "poor dad" to get in with a good company, get benefits, and climb up the corporate ladder. His "rich dad" just laughs, and asks......

"Why not own the ladder?"

And why not?

Rock on!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Case for Reading

Howdy, folks! And it is Wednesday again. A very good day.
OK, so you know you need to practice, and when you're not writing songs, or practicing scales,
you're trying that interval ear trainer....Right?? Well, perhaps you're getting burnt out doing that stuff, and you want to add something to your routine.

May I suggest something shocking. Something radical. Something that's uncool, but will help you be the ultimate cool.

How about...Learning to Read Music?

Most of us are tab junkies. It's easier, faster, and it doesn't involved the dreaded MUSIC READING! ("Please! No Etudes!") There's a glaring omission in guitar tab, however. A big ol' tear the the fabric of it's apparent perfection. There's no (efficient) way to read rhythms from it. Plus, it's incredibly instrument specific. It only works for the guitar!

There's several tremendous advantages of traditional music notation.

1. It's not instrument specific. A piano player can jam on the same stuff as a guitar. Neat!

2. It looks cool. (Ha ha, just partly kidding...They do have some nice ties with notation, tho.)

3. If you bury it in a time machine, and dig it up a century later, you'll be able to play it exactly the way the composer intended. Hey, how to you think they play Beethoven nowadays? From his demo tapes? (Tapes may be old, but they didn't even have records in Ludwig's time.)

4. This is possible, because the rhythm is part of the notation. In other words, the composer can specify the note duration, rhythm, beat, etc.

5. If you really want to learn J.S. Bach's "Invention #4", GOOD LUCK finding a tab for that! And if you do, you'll be at the mercy of the transcriber. (There's many different ways to play the same notes on the guitar, and you want to be able to choose which works best for you.)

Traditional notation is almost a universal language among musicians. Limiting yourself to reading guitar tab is stifling, indeed.

OK, now what? You're ready to learn, but where to start? A good book is helpful. And this article by an editor of mine is REALLY great. Check it out.

Most important, however, is finding a style that catches your interest. I've stumbled on several ways to learn, and of course, many more exist.

1. Classical. Practicing from a classically themed book, learning etudes, inventions, etc. Very proper, and very traditional.

2. Kiddie. Learning "Mary had a Little Lamb." Approachable, fun. But if it's not your thing, it's not your thing.

3. Jazz. This is the way that really got me hooked. Once I knew the notes, and their location on the guitar, learning jazz tunes from The Real Book sharpened my skills considerably. Music reading was fun, and most importantly, applicable to my playing.

I'm sure you can find a facet of this language that catches the light of your interest, and illuminates your journey.

Here's a few ideas for you. Are you a shredder? Learn some Bach pieces, and wail like Yngwie. (Don't forget the hairspray, and many hours of practice.)

Perhaps you're a black metal guitarist, interested in adding a Celtic interlude to one of your crushingly devastating songs. Check out some traditional celtic folk songs, especially the flute parts!

Maybe you'd like to rock in the style of the Trans Siberian Orchestra. Find some holiday charts, and arrange 'em for the guitar.

The possibilities are endless, because soon, the entire world of music will be open to you.

Enjoy the journey!

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Great Teacher

When's the last time you've recorded yourself playing?

Rockin' out presents several challenges for me:

1. I have to figure out what the heck I'm playing.

2. I have to figure out where the heck I'm supposed to be on the neck.

3. I have to listen to the other musicians.

4. Which doesn't leave a lot of brain power, at least for me, to listen to my tone, phrasing, and other vital stats.

Enter the beauty of the recorder. Even an old tape player will suffice for our purposes. Try recording your playing, and take an honest listen. As a friend of mine, Curtis ( said, "Recording is a heck of a teacher!"

Listen for bends. Are they where you want 'em? How about vibrato? Is it too slow, or fast? (When I play a gig that I'm nervous at, my vibrato speed usually increases - my sonic "knees" shaking.) And of course, how's that tone?

Incorporating a recorder into your practice routine a few times a week could drastically help your playing. Listening back might be the dreaded time of your day, but - sooner or later, you'll stop, bob your head, and say "hey, that sounds pretty good!"

(And remember, it's what everyone else hears, so you might as well attend to it now.)

Rock on!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Jesus' Copy of the Bible

Holy smoke!

Van Halen burned down DC this past Thursday!

I was born in '85. This means I missed the boat, as far as the heyday of the mullets and charvels is concerned.

So when a tour with David Lee Roth was announced, I was enthused, to say the least.
Nosebleed seats were to be had for a hundred bucks three minutes after tickets went on sale. But I got mine, and boy, I'm glad I did.

If you haven't been to an arena show, you really owe it to yourself to go. And in some ways, it's almost cooler to be way "back in da' back," as my go go buddies would say. To jump into better seats, I could have easily committed suicide, or at least knocked any remaining sense from my head. But thank goodness for binoculars and jumbotrons.

The boys, who really ain't boys anymore, rocked the house. Eddie had a wall of his signature amps delivering that toneful roar he's famed for. Dave was the most extroverted extrovert I've ever seen. Alex, looking like a tired turtle, did his thing and did it well. Wolfgang, Eddie's son, held it down and showed typical 15 year old alertness in front of a sold out arena. (I'm not sure if he realized that fifty thousand people were watching him or not....Hard to tell, he's on "planet 15." But the dude did great.)

In short, they rocked!

One of the most memorable parts for me was, when scanning the set before the band came on, I spied Eddie's guitars through my binoculars...They were tucked away, stage left. I was awestruck. It was like....Seeing Jesus' Copy of the Bible!

And boy, what an inspiration they were to me. I was so amazed, I forgot to clap sometimes.

It leads me to a thought - Man, that is what I want to do. And I think it's what a lot of us want to do.

We're all terrified to say it out loud. What if we fail? And we're surely crazy to even hope to play arenas, right? Better get a nice safe job in a cover band, or with the government.

But if we never ask for what we truly want, how will we ever hope to achieve our loftiest aspirations?

And are we crazy to ask? Well, Dave proved to the mob watching him on Thursday - You have to be crazy to pull it off.

Better start now! Be crazy, and ask for what you want.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

No more elevator music

The title "Professional musician" seems to many people the biggest oxymoron contained in the English language.

However, I have tried. I shower. I show up on time. I brush my teeth, I learn the songs, and I'm in tune and warmed up when I show up on the gig.

One of the biggest challenges of maintaining this blog has been to keep it strictly musical. As I'm (hopefully) speaking to an audience with a wide range of viewpoints and opinions, it is foremost in my mind to keep a certain level of professionalism in my writing.

Sure, I'll offer crazy ideas, insane advice, and zany thoughts - but careful ones.

However, I feel that in trying to maintain an image, I'm inadvertently becoming strictly an entertainer, and not a force of positive change.

Us entertainers have an important job. We're in the center of attention, and in a world where it's hard to get people to focus, the stage, blog, or video is a powerful tool. We shouldn't throw away the opportunity to better the world around us.

I feel that I've become too neutral, to head-in-the-sand ostrich like, and well, it's stopping now.

(I'm sure you won't be surprised when I tell you that I used to be a fiery grassroots activist.)

I will be occasionally posting links to stories and websites that I consider important, such as Amnesty International petitions, etc. They'll just be a link at the bottom of the post, so they won't be in your face. But they will be there.

Please click on 'em, and think about 'em, and if you agree, take action.

By the way, in order to keep this blog from leaning too far the other way, don't bother posting any comments about the links and/or the issues. They won't be posted.

Bands who speak out for the world are brave souls, indeed. It's very easy to just sing soft love songs, or angry hate songs.

But it's not quite as simple to sing about stuff that matters. You might just wake people up.

Take a look at Troy Davis' story.

No more elevator music

The title "Professional musician" seems to many people the biggest oxymoron contained in the English language.

However, I have tried. I shower. I show up on time. I brush my teeth, I learn the songs, and I'm in tune and warmed up when I show up on the gig.

One of the biggest challenges of maintaining this blog has been to keep it strictly musical. As I'm (hopefully) speaking to an audience with a wide range of viewpoints and opinions, it is foremost in my mind to keep a certain level of professionalism in my writing.

Sure, I'll offer crazy ideas, insane advice, and zany thoughts - but careful ones.

However, I feel that in trying to maintain an image, I'm inadvertently becoming strictly an entertainer, and not a force of positive change.

Us entertainers have an important job. We're in the center of attention, and in a world where it's hard to get people to focus, the stage, blog, or video is a powerful tool. We shouldn't throw away the opportunity to better the world around us.

I feel that I've become too neutral, to head-in-the-sand ostrich like, and well, it's stopping now.

(I'm sure you won't be surprised when I tell you that I used to be a fiery grassroots activist.)

I will be occasionally posting links to stories and websites that I consider important, such as Amnesty International petitions, etc. They'll just be a link at the bottom of the post, so they won't be in your face. But they will be there.

Please click on 'em, and think about 'em, and if you agree, take action.

By the way, in order to keep this blog from leaning too far the other way, don't bother posting any comments about the links and/or the issues. They won't be posted.

Bands who speak out for the world are brave souls, indeed. It's very easy to just sing soft love songs, or angry hate songs.

But it's not quite as simple to sing about stuff that matters. You might just wake people up.

Take a look at Troy Davis' story.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mr Van Halen, your shoe's untied

Happy Halloween, folks!

Today is a very scary day. My littlest brother is getting his learner's permit. Be sure to stay off the sidewalks!

I've been noticing something very curious about the guitar world, best summed up in a joke that a great guitarist told me once.

"How many guitar players does it take to change a light bulb?"

13. One to change the bulb, and 12 to stand around and remark how they would change it so much faster, or keep their elbow in while doing so, or "this is why I never use incandescent bulbs", etc...

I'm getting the impression that a lot of guitarists would tell Eddie Van Halen if his shoe was untied.

This is a curious behavior, indeed, and I have to admit, I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else.

Here's what I think is up. (But hey, maybe I'm way off.)

Musicians, or anyone, who judge their self worth by their skills or knowledge...Are sitting in a very vulnerable corner of their minds. If one's intrinsic value is dictated by the ability to play arpeggios faster than anyone on the block, this might have been OK a few years ago.

But thanks to a little company called YouTube, a lot of big, tough metalheads were crushed by some kids who are just plain faster. So now, Marty Metalhead has to be the fastest on the internet, instead of the block. Imagine the pressure! "Enemies fill up the pages, are they real?" as Ozzy Osbourne sang in "Diary of a Madman."

My typical reaction to a threat is to destroy it.

Especially mosquitoes.

Now, when there's a guitar player who's way better than me, there's several responses I could have.

The first, and most common, is to discount the musician, say they're playing too fast (then why do all the slow guys work on speed?), have lousy tone, etc etc.

This usually feels bad, because a.) it's often untrue, and b.) we know we're making our own excuses not to go practice. Or go get a record deal ourselves.

The second response is more insidious, and just as unhealthy, as the first. Upon seeing a fabulous jazz musician shredding through "Giant Steps" in 7/4, after we close our mouths, and fully comprehend what's happening, we say "oh, well, I don't really want to be a jazz musician."
Discounting, in a passive-aggressive way.

The third is a cool reaction.

"By George! That guy is smokin'! I'm gonna ask him for some lessons, and then, darnit, I'm gonna go practice, because I see where my chops should be, and then I'm gonna go build a band, and then I'm gonna go chase a record deal, and then I'm gonna go buy a grammar book about avoiding run on sentences!"

A teacher of mine once said that once he stopped trying to be the best musician in the world, and instead concentrated on being the best musician he could be, the battle ended, and everyone became teachers instead of enemies.

So the next time you open your mouth to knock some famous musician, or even a local one, look inside first. Maybe your inner child is angry for missing it's practice routine. ;)

Rock on!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

You'll never be hungry

Good morning, everyone!

Wow, it's getting cold outside. I should be running, but I'm gonna write this first, where it's nice and warm inside.

There is so much to learn. It's great. I often tell this to my students, when their eyes start glazing over during a theory lesson. It doesn't seem to help them.

But seriously, folks, I like to think of music, or any other discipline, as an "endless buffet table."
So much to learn (eat), that you'll never go "hungry."

There's the arena of technique. That's a table on it's own. Once you feel that you've got picking down to a John Petrucci level, and your legato chops up to "holdsworthian" standards, how about learning slap guitar a la Regi Wooten? And what about different ethic styles? One of the biggest regrets of my life was, when playing street music, two beautiful girls walked up, and asked if I played any flamenco music. My answer? "no....not really..."


Then, there's theory! Several lifetimes to immerse yourself in with this school of thought. Perhaps you're intrigued John Coltrane's harmonic innovations with "Giant Steps." Or maybe Bach's ideas are more your interest.

Throw away your wallet once you get into gear. You won't be needing it any more. High gain rigs. Vintage tweed amps. Pawnshop tubescreamers, the latest effects processors, and of course, cables that cost as much as a good set of tires. And once you get all that stuff, it's a blast to configure it to give you the sound that's uniquely you. (And it doesn't have to cost a fortune, mind you.)

Then, we arrive at musicianship. Reading music. Understanding rhythms. Listening to other musicians. And of course, each genre is slightly different. If you've hit writer's block with punk, try listening to...Latin!

So here's a radical new idea for you. The next time you're bored when practicing, try learning about something in a different area of the "endless buffet table." No need to keep eating one thing if it makes us sick.

There is so much to learn about, and by George, it's darn cool! So get excited, and if you don't want to practice scales today, try to find out why John Coltrane made such a splash with "Giant Steps." (Or something that excites you.)

Have fun!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Your own songs

The "Sky is Crying" today, and it is nice.

A very short post today:

Somebody told me once, or I read somewhere....

"On the subject of cover songs - they're great, but unless you write your own stuff, you'll always be playing somebody else's songs..."

So when are you gonna write your own stuff?

(By the way, I've got some original material coming out next week. Stay tuned....)

Go practice! And go write!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Think Big!

Greetings, intrepid surfers of the cyber ocean!

I'm up on my virtual soapbox today, preaching away again!

And boy, I've got a good sermon for you!

Lately, the spirit of entrepreneurship has gripped me, and my family as well.
Every single person in my house is self employed, and the best part is, we actually have food to eat, a place to stay, and clothes to wear. In other words, we're making it. And we're aiming high. Soon, you'll all be working for...My cousin, because he will own the world. But seriously, folks, we're intent, and we're focused, and to quote George W. Bush, we're all a "Pit Bull on the Pant Leg of Opportunity."

This is exciting, to say the least. And as an educator, what do I do when I get a bee in my bonnet? I try to rile everyone else up! (I must have been a revolutionary or a preacher in my past life....)

These times, noble axemen, (and axewomen), are for you! They're the times to have big goals! To aim high. And to use lots of italics! (I just figured out the hot key on my keyboard for fonts, so I'm having fun.)

Did you know that Google bought YouTube for $1.6 billion dollars? And how it was started by three former PayPal employees?

This is so exciting to me. Three guys have a great idea, and they make it happen. No wimpy "Oh well, I think I'll wait for the right time." The time is now, baby, and if you don't jump, you're gonna miss da boat!

People tell me that they'd really like to do something on their own that's visionary, world changing, and unique. Then they usually add "well, I have to wait a few years till I get settled."

Bro, once you get settled, you ain't gettin' un-settled, and that's a fact. Change, upheaval, and turmoil are fabulous birthing times for insanity, genius, and world domination!

And the same goes for music. I've read, been told, discouraged, and advised to have low goals, to shoot for something that is "safe," and that I really "don't stand a chance, because nobody does." (And of course, to have a backup!)

"Waiter, I'd like a whole loaf of bread, because I have enough baloney to make ten sandwiches."

I don't know about you, but a suburban home with an average income, a "daily grind," and some time to mow the lawn after work ain't my idea of "safe."

Actually, that sounds pretty darn scary. I talk to a lot of people, and the average workin' folks ain't happy. Now, we know that happiness isn't related to career or material things, but still....I think giving up on dreams really damages peoples' souls.

I read a quote from a book by an excellent author and musician named Livingston Taylor...It reads (roughly):

"Somebody's got to write the hit songs."

And that's true.

Somebody's got to be playing the Verizon center, or they'll be out of business. And somebody's gotta make the next YouTube. Those companies don't just grow on trees.

So: When are you gonna stop buying the mediocrity, and do something with yourself?

Sure, the chances of radical success are slim, but remember what Lloyd from "Dumb and Dumber" said when Mary told him that his chances are one in a million, he hollered at the top of his lungs

"I have a chance! Yes!!!!"

Now: go build your empire.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Up In Smoke

Waking up this morning was strange.

First, my alarm went off after an absurdly short period of time since I set it.

And there there were helicopters flying everywhere.
Bap bap bap bap, their rotors cutting through the early morning twilight like over sized hornets of bad news. (How's that for a description?)

A raging inferno was ripping through a neighbor's house. Poof. It's gone.

Geeze, what a mind warp. It was the lady's dream house.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt, BUT - talk about a bad day!

I'm always stressing the point, and I'd like to reiterate it: We need to appreciate, value, and realize how lucky we are.

"So," you ask.."What does this have to do with music?"

I've noticed, in myself, and others, a lot of wastefulness. But the kind I'd like to bring up today involves the wasting of notes. How often have you blown through a gazillion tone arpeggio, with a half-hearted and listless attitude?

I've done it, and I've seen other guitarists do the same.

Here's a funky little thought for you today. What if each note you played was alive, and the length of it's life was the duration you held it for?

Now, your first thought might be "Sucks to be a sixteenth note!"

Well, what if we approach music as if each note is living, and dying, for the song?

Sure, your buddies might look at you funny, but hey, I never said you had to tell 'em.

This idea might make us concentrate on making each note count. Now, sure, you can play a 64th note passage, but just make sure it counts.

After all, you might be burnin' on the fretboard one day, and the next, your guitar's literally up in smoke, just like my neighbor's house.

So do your guitar a favor, and treat each note with honor, respect, and a new sense of awareness. On a much larger scale, our own lives are sixteenth notes in a universe of funky galaxies. Microcosm or infinite universe, a note's "life" or my own, I'm fo' sho' gonna work on being more aware, and hopefully, mindful.

When you end your practice or jam session today, try letting that last chord ring out until it dies away on it's own. (This is especially cool with an acoustic guitar late at night.) Just let that note fade away into the darkness.

And don't forget to listen to it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ear Training!

The internet is home to a wealth of musical resources, and Ricci Adams' website, , is one of my favorites.

The interval ear trainer is highly recommended, at least in my book.

Here's a quick guide to help you get the hang of it.

Start with just a few

The check marks next to each interval name can be selected, or deselected, effectively removing the interval from the lineup. Start off easy, say, with a unison, minor 2nd, and major 2nd. Work your way up from there. On the flip side, you can throw yourself in the deep end, and learn as you go.

Check the mode

You'll notice, on the right hand side of the screen, a button labeled "Play Mode" with two notes on it. Clicking this changes the position of the notes. If they're lined up vertically, they're harmonic intervals - played at the same time, that is. If they're not lined up, they're melodic intervals - notes played in succession. A third option has both.

For me, the melodic option is easiest, but the harmonic choice is most applicable to real-world situations. Read: chords.

Get a feel for 'em

Let's say you want to learn to recognize minor 3rds. Uncheck all the other intervals, and use the "New Interval" button to cycle through random minor 3rds to get a feel for what they sound like.

Check your progress

Mouse over the bar graph graphic on the right side of the screen for a progress report.

Do it

This program is free, so you have no excuse not to use it. So use it!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More inspiration!

Music is a creative art. And creativity is often motiviated by inspriation.

Now, this means it's important to get inspired!

This musical quest that I'm partaking in is teaching me a lot about life. Discipline was one of the first lessons presented to me (and one I'm still working on.) In order to gain proficiency at anything, one must focus, and concentrate.

The second lesson builds on the first:

The fuel, incentive, and reason for discipline is sometimes: Inspiration!

When we find our discipline lacking, and our creativity drained, getting inspired is important.

Try flipping on some music that turned you into a musician. The original tunes that rocked.
For me, it was simpler stuff than what's in my CD collection now...But it rocks, and it brings back that feeling of awe.

Going to see a concert is a great way to get pumped up. I'm gonna be at the Van Halen show (fingers crossed that they'll have a show) on the 1st. I plan on being inspired. Small jazz shows are just as nifty as the mega arena tours. One of the most inspirational concerts I've seen cost five bucks to get in to, and seated 40 people at the most. It felt like a private lesson with a world class jazz band. Far out.

And for more ideas, look outside of your field. I got up early today to look at the planets through a telescope. Have y'all SEEN Saturn through a scope before? It's incredible. You can see the rings. It's literally out of this world. I was also doing some looking last night, and I saw a gigantic city of stars who's light took 33,600 years to get to earth. And my eye caught some of those photons. Wow.

(BY THE WAY, on the subject of astronomy....It is so way cool to check out things that are millions of light years away - from your backyard! Sure, it looks like a smudge you can barely see, but by Jimi, it's a galaxy, and that's inspiring.)

I'm off to go practice. I'm inspired.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Practice time

Practicing can be the source of stress, anguish, fear, and great chops.

Well, we don't want the first three. We're playing for fun, and even if you're in my shoes, playing for cash as well, the point is - guitar is supposed to be fun.

If I find a way around practicing, I'll be the first to tell you. But for me, it's the best way to build chops, improve as a musician, and it also gives me a sense of accomplishment when I actually sit down and hammer something out.

For more ideas on the philosophy of practicing, see my entry On Practicing

( )

But here's a groovy idea: For me, the trick is to figure out what time of day I practice the best.
If I can get it out of the way the first thing in the morning, I can usually achieve my musical goals, maintain a bit of focus, and I feel great about it the rest of the day.

Some folks have great success when they get home from school or work. Others are night owls, working out arpeggios, inversions, and the latest plans to take over the world in the wee hours. (I think Stalin was like this, but I'm not 100% sure......) (Ha ha, night owls! You really are trying to take over the world!)

Try to figure out what your ideal time is, and stick with it.

(As morning is my best time, I get stressed if I put off practicing till the evening, because I know that I'll invent some excuse, and never get to it.)

Hit your stride with consistency, and watch your chops improve.

Now get off the computer, and go practice.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Everyone thinks I'm the Energizer bunny - I'm always bouncing around,
and being hyper (and usually wearing weird shoes...)

But even I need to recharge my batteries.

I think it's important for musicians to keep this in mind. We are always hammering away at something, be it sweep picking, learning that song, or trying to figure out how the heck to tune the guitar.

But sometimes we need to completely step back, breathe in, breathe out, listen, and then pick up the guitar and play.

I just got back from a day trip in the mountains. Boy, it was good to be out in the fall, and get recharged. One of the things that always intrigues me as a person, and a musician, is how quiet it can be out in the woods.

Living in the Washington, DC area, it's never quiet. There's always a radio, engine, siren, or in the case of this particular city, the ghosts of integrity in the graveyard of the politicians' ethics. (Actually, I'm in the suburbs, but hey, those spirits holler preeety darn loud!)

In Shenandoah mountains - there's nothing! Quiet. Just the wind, and the ravens croaking morosely to the rocks. And my mind, incessently offering it's commentary on life. (If you think my blogs are bad, try being me!)

And here's the musical/philosophical thought for the day, brought to you by the quiet of the mountains, and the noise of my brain:

It's in two parts:

1. If one can truly quiet oneself, then they can play from an uncluttered square one. No static interfering with the signal.

2. Find out how you recharge your batteries, and make sure you keep 'em charged. Especially when you hit a wall with your guitar progress. Stepping back can make all the difference.

And by the way, as musicians, perhaps it's important to learn just as much about silence as it is about the noise. I observe that most people are scared to put a long rest in the middle of a solo - we've gotta fill up the space.

Maybe it's because we don't understand the space?

Friday, October 5, 2007


Thank Jimi it's Friday!

I've got some good musical insights for ya today, but as usual, here's something first........

Did you know that the space age started fifty years ago yesterday? Yes sir, Sputnik was launched, and so was the space race, where we frantically built rockets, blew stuff up, and proved that American radio always had it shortcomings (they edited out half of the astronaut's speech! What, did he cuss?)...We also worked to gather important scientific information; mainly, proving that the moon certainly is a rock, and that it's really cold out there.

Man, don't get me started on that radio bit...

But seriously, folks, I was out looking at the sky last night, and I tried to imagine my Dad and his little buddies looking up at the 1957 sky, at this thing called "Sputnik."

Talk about a quantum leap. Sure, there were planes, but this was something in orbit!
Towards the stars! In space.

We've spent eons gazing upward toward the twinkling lights of the night, but these spunky Russians said "hey, we're gonna have a piece of that!"

And they did.

Sure, it looked like a flying Daddy-Long-Legs, but it was there, and for me, fifty years later, standing in my backyard pondering this, it teaches a powerful lesson.

Best summed up in one of my Mom's favorite quotes:

Don't wish upon a star - reach for one!

We are largely a society of followers. Eating lunch last Friday, I saw a guy walk across the parking lot, and his clothes made him look ridiculous. (You know it's bad if I'm saying it!) But it was in style! Can you say "baaaah?"

We tap licks out 'cause Eddie did, scrunch up our face cause Stevie made it cool, and even play our guitars backwards 'cause Jimi did.

But when are we gonna reach for our goals, hopes, and dreams, and quit following?

Sheep of the world! Unite! (OK, maybe my pink hair is turning me into a communist...)

But seriously, folks. What are you waiting for? Your guitar teacher to show you the lick to rule the world? Or possibly the latest gizmo to make you sound like God?

I suggest you start your plans for world domination right now.

Otherwise, (and I am joking).... the Russians might beat you!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Happy Birthday, Stevie!

Today is Stevie Ray Vaughan's birthday.

He would have been 54.

My goodness, what a fabulous guitar player! Stevie's my favorite.
I don't know how he did it, but he would get this...roar..from his playing and singing. Such a little guy, but man, he would howl, and so would his guitar!

I'm very thankful that he's left behind so many recordings, so we all can enjoy the legacy he's given us.

So it's his birthday today, and I'd like to tip my hat to this wise bluesman.

I'm going to remember this today:

Have you heard that once you make a sound, it never stops? Now, I'm not sure if it's true or not, but if it is, it really makes ya think.

It can also be taken in a different way - everything you say to someone, every interaction, every cd you make, if you happen to be in the business....

Is never forgotten completely.

How many times can we remember stuff that people have said to us when we were kids, both nice and nasty. I still remember the bullies, the good guys, the harsh and kind words...

So we have two ways for sound and action to endure - through science, and emotion.

This makes me want to take care of what I say, and what I play...and make sure I want it lasting forever! No such thing as an insignificant note, word, or action any more.

Stevie's recordings give me a great example to follow.

Today, for his birthday, and hopefully from now on, I plan on keeping that in mind.

Happy Birthday, SRV!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Turning technique on it's head

Music rule # 347: Never wear wrestling shoes to a general admission concert.

Other than giving Washington-area podiatrists a huge influx of patients,
the Steve Vai and Zack Wiesinger show at the Birchmere last night was killin'!

They had us all standing on tippy toe, and by George, it was so awesome, we couldn't sit down!

(I think Steve Vai is getting bribed to do this by the foot doctors in the area...He even took a picture of his foot-very interesting with the conspiracy theory- with is new iPhone while onstage. And just WHERE did he come up with the dough for an expensive gizmo like THAT??)

But seriously, folks...I learned a great deal by watching these cats jam.

In the confines of my teaching studio, the world of music can mistakenly appear cut, dried, and small sometimes. And you've probably heard me explain how there's a finite amount of techniques.


Steve and Zack showed me differently last night.

Jimminy Christmas, I didn't know there were so many different ways to make a guitar sing, growl, howl, and sound like band practice at Area 51.

I saw once that Steve said that he sat in his practice room one day, set the guitar on the floor, and spent hours seeing how many different sounds he could get out of it.

Last night, he proved that he really DID do that! Sometimes hitting the guitar to make the notes ring, or shaking it behind his back, or ripping some good old fashioned shred, it sounded alien.

Opening off the show was "Guitar" Zack Wiesinger. Introduced as "The 20 year old guitar virtuoso, at 6' 2", who has fallen off more stages than we can count...Guitar Zack!" And here comes this guy who shares both the name AND haircut of my younger brother. I call it "The mile high hair." In fact, Guitar Zack even had a song that went: My Hair is perfect, it has seven sides. Cool beans.

Zack entertained the packed house with his guitarmanship, stage presence, sense of humor, and dynamics.

Yeah yeah, I've gone on about dynamics, but Zack really showed me how to use 'em. Thanks, Zack, for such a great demonstration! Ripping it up till it looked like his hands would bleed, he then would drop it off to a whisper, then groove off to something cool. Also making skilled use of the tone and volume controls on his strat, he presented the audience with a tremendous range of tones, sounds, and cool noises. (And just with a guitar and an amp! Simple usually, and especially so on a stage that Steve Vai would be playing in in a half hour!)

Steve came on, and succeeded in converting the entire venue to his brand of rock 'n roll religion. Looking like a psychedelic voodoo priest complete with a light up guitar, Steve was Steve, and boy, was he Steve. Talk about effortless playing, and some darn cool sounds. And who ever said the Whammy bar was just for decoration? Everyone half expected a little green man to hatch out of his guitar during some of this sonic excursions.

Both of the axemen showcased that Sunday evening thumbed their noses at the traditional boundaries and limits of "normal" technique. They truly spoke with their guitars.

Technique sure looked funny stood on it's head in the corner, it's face all red and upside-down like.

Way to go, guys!

I'm gonna have to try this....

By the way, check out Zack's site at
And Steve's at

Friday, September 28, 2007

In search of the Fourth Dimension

The fourth dimension. Oooh! Neat!

Einstein showed us that there are, in fact, four dimensions. The conventional three spatial ones, and time as the fourth. (They're still looking for the fourth spatial dimension, by the way.)

If I open a brand new teaching studio, I can give you directions by saying "It's on the corner of 7th and V, and it's on the tenth floor."

That's three dimensions. Left, right, up. Where's the fourth? "I'll meet you at my studio, which is on the corner of 7th and V, at 3:00 pm." Bingo. Time.

And the beautiful thing about being a musician is that we can uncover hidden dimensions in our playing. Sure, maybe not the sought after fourth spatial dimension, and we probably won't be finding gravity waves. However, just like the researchers who dare to tackle such mind boggling puzzles in theoretical physics, we too can uncover new worlds of mystery, meaning, and wonder.

Such a dimension that warrants examination is the same as Einstein's fourth dimension.


I often observe aspiring rockers looking for new sounds, riffs, and melodic ideas when they hit the wall of writer's block.

The first place folks usually go is on the note dimension. However, while there are literally thousands of melodies, chords, and combinations, in the end, there's only twelve tones in the system of western music.

The next stop is tone. Adding crazy effects, or maybe going the route of old school tube amp, the seeker adds another dimension to their music. We might call this the second dimension.
Now we're the simpsons! D'oh!

While these classifications are strictly the figments of my convoluted imagination, let's call Style the third dimension of music. Country guys play different than Jazz cats, and that's good, because variety is the spice of life.

At the end of the day, tired, dusty from trudging around a vintage electronics shop for those NOS tubes for your tone, ears ringing for the thundering sounds of The Celtic Boys play Metallica (for your stylistic influences), and your brain thoroughly saturated with scales, modes, and the concept of diminished arpeggios, we might sit dejectedly on top of our amp, and ask...

"OK, so what else can I do to make my lines sound different?"

Remember the fourth dimension. Time!

Instead of starting that solo on the "1", as in 1 2 3 4, try starting on the "And" of 1. Notice how this shakes things up a bit? Next, experiment with starting on the sixteenth note right after any of the downbeats. See if you can hit the "E of 3." Wow. Groovy.

If you really want a challenge, try this over a beat with a sixteenth-note swing feel.

This works for riffs, too! If you sound like a robot from a practice book, try playing chords five times, or three times, but not four times. Change the placement a bit.

Beginning phrases on different beats adds a sense of syncopation to your music, and will also help you tremendously with your aptitude of rhythm. While it's not physically harder to do this, I find it mentally difficult. We're so used to playing a certain way, and on certain beats. The funny part is, we didn't even know it.

But we do now.

Welcome to the fourth dimension!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Are you not entertained??

All the world's a stage.

Us musicians need to take this statement seriously.

We're entertainers. And if we're on stage, we need to BE entertaining!
Folks want to laugh, be amazed, dazzled, and inspired. The vast majority of the population is too scared to step up into the limelight, and rock.

Like any other skill, the knack for entertainment can, and should, be practiced.
And daily life is the perfect place to do so. Actually, for guys like me, I can't help it.

A story for ya.

The local minor league baseball stadium is very creative in their audience participation. They always have something cool going on, be it the successful attempt to set the Guinness World Record for the most people sitting on whoopee cushions, to the "Tribute to Toilet Paper" night they have a few weeks ago.

Being the holiday weekend, and the fact that great seats can be had for cheap, my family and I decided to go out to the game.

And I hatched a plot to get on the Jumbotron.

Eternally grateful to the inventor of that salvation on a roll, I wanted to show my appreciation of Toilet Paper, AND up my game of dressing up totally weird.
Bowie, MD: A small child cowered behind his father as a strange apparition emerged from near the hot dog stand at Prince George's Stadium. Looking on in terror, he realized that this must be the ghoul that clogs the toilets in dark and scary bathrooms, and steals the plungers. THIS must be the monster that uses all the soap, and leaves none for folks who need it! Breathing a sigh of relief that the mummy took no notice of him, he watched while the strange creature waddled past, unraveling slightly, and hollering in a muffled fashion...

Go Baysox! Flush 'em away!

I ended up on the Jumbotron. Twice.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Sound better in ten minutes!

OK, this is just partly false advertising...

We all want to sound better now, and it usually boils down to us buying that latest wiz-bang
gizmo, or a new instructional miracle book, and then doing nothing about it.

But hey, you really can sound better in ten minutes!

It's been staring you in the face all along.

Your signal chain.

(No, wearing traffic lights as a belt is not the new punk fashion. However, my hair will soon be bright enough to use as a traffic flow director...)

Check out the components that you use to make sound.

Starting with your guitar, the gauge of strings, the type of pick. They all make a difference.
You can get worlds of different sounds from just the tone and volume controls on the instrument. Changing gauges of strings will alter the feel and sound.(be careful, talk to someone before you do this so you don't mess up your setup.)

Next, check out your cable! Generally speaking, the shorter, the better. Sure, mobility may be sacrificed, but that's a pretty low level of electricity that has to flow through it. The result? The longer the cable, the more the signal will degrade. Especially with a wireless unit.

I once had a rig with sixty feet of cable, PLUS a cheap wireless unit. It sure sounded different that a ten foot cable plugged right into my amp! (I actually kinda liked the sound...)

Try fiddling with your effects next. Instead of cranking the distortion pedal, try using both it and the amp distortion to create a different sound.

Perhaps leave your wah - wah pedal half open for a crazy sound!

The batteries powering the pedals make a difference, too. Some folks prefer them over power supplies.

And then your amp is next....Experiment with volume. Do your speakers break up slightly? That's a big part of some guys' sound, and other dudes hate it.

The point is - Get yourself a mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and start to geek out over your signal chain. While your sound is ultimately in your fingers and brain, it sure doesn't hurt to have a decent sound to start with.

Don't wait 'till you're on tour with Van Halen. Start today!

By the way, this book is a great help! I highly recommend it.
It's different that a "buy this pedal, sound like Eddie" book. While it doesn't
specifically go over metal and hard rock sounds, it's great for understanding how components in your rig work together to achieve a certain sound.

Rock on!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rip 'em off!

"Borrow with taste" is what Fred Coury of Cinderella said...

Yes sir, that's good advice!

A wealth of sonic treasure and brilliant ideas are within the reach of most musicians, but few seem to see it.

Where is this bank of fresh material, grooving grooves, and incandescent tone?

Outside of your genre.

If we listen to the same style all of the time, especially if it's the style we play, we shouldn't be surprised if all we can write are licks of a similar style. We might run out of new ideas. A common misconception is that we've got writer's block. We do, in a way, but there's an easy fix.

Adding a new style to our daily listening can vastly improve our creativity. Infusing elements of new genres into "our style" might be thought of robbing distant lands to bring goodies back home.

When R&B licks start showing up in our rock playing, we might have Hendrix. Classical in a metal format is extraordinarily well done. Just ask Randy Rhoads or Yngwie Malmsteen.

Think Jazz never shreds and burns like rock? Then you haven't heard Scott Henderson, Wayne Krantz, or Mike Stern!

These are some of the guys that have combined elements of vastly different genres to yield a unique sonic stew.

Why not try this yourself?

Here's some suggested starting places:

Do a YouTube search on:

Charlie Parker
Charlie Hunter
T-Bone Walker
Albert King
Latin Jazz
Victor Wooten
Jason Becker

And remember this: What you listen to, you end up playing. Wanna get some old blues in your playing? Listen to Robert Johnson. Are you a metalhead looking for some spooky sounds, but you can't drop tune any lower? Check out some classical tunes - some of 'em are pretty scary. It's almost that simple! You are what you eat, and you play what you hear.

Have fun!

Friday, September 21, 2007

There is no God - When it's not good to listen to the experts

I hope the subject line caught your attention!

Now, let me explain...

I suffer from a peculiur type of disease called "Indecisive-itis," and it seems like a lot of other guitarists have the same problem.

The symptoms of this ailment? Always trying to seek the best way to do something.

Ah, this doesn't sound like a problem, right? But it is! We go through our careers always doubting that what we're doing right now is the best possible way of doing it. Take practicing, for example. Steve Vai says we should practice ten hours a day. So we might devote ourselves to this, until we read the next article in the magazine...With Eddie Van Halen saying he never practices, he just plays. Ok, so then we just play!

And then there's the new ad on the Internet claiming to boost your chops with this magic tonic, so we try that....and so on, and so fourth.

In short, we drive ourselves crazy by constantly questioning ourselves in a bad way.

Questions are great, and essential for progress. But, it's important to believe in ourselves as well.

I believe that we all have a guitar teacher inside of us. He or she is the best possible teacher we will ever have - if we listen to her. Instructors can serve the wonderful purpose of showing you this inner teacher.

Here's the fine line to walk: Believing in yourself, while learning from everyone.

Which brings me to the subject of my blog..."There is no God." (No, this isn't a statement on the existence or non-existence of the powers that be...) It means - Listen to Mr. Vai, and Mr Hendrix, and listen to yourself.

Walk the line, and balance. Listening to other people to an extreme degree could be just as harmful as not listening at all.

So what do you think?

Rock on!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Playin' the blues - Pain and the musicial expression

Life just hurts sometimes.

Thank goodness for the guitar.

Here's what I've found....

We all are faced with a certain amount of pain. Some, we make up, and some we certainly don't.

Just as our problems are unique, and at the same time, universal, so to are our ways of dealing with them.

We can try to bury 'em, numb 'em, ignore 'em, or deal with those feelings.

I've found that the latter is the way that works best for me. Enter music, and in case you were looking for it, the point to this post.

Playing your blues not only will make you feel better, but it will give your music meaning. We strive so hard for artistic validity, trying hip chord substitutions, exotic scales, blazing technique, and endless gear combinations...Only to discover that the very thing that will make our musical voice unique is to be 100% genuine us. Something we've had all along!

Sitting down, and chillin' out for a second, we can begin to feel just how sad, happy, angry, or apathetic we are right now. Then, if we pick up our guitar, and start to play "with feeling," as Jimi Hendrix would say, something cool might just happen.

When I do this, (and when it works), my playing gets a voice of it's own. When I concentrate on meaning what I say, or in this case, what I play, the notes become meaningful.

And to me, when notes ain't meaningful, they're just babble, drivel, stupid small talk.

And by meaningful, they don't have to be sad! No sir...They can be different emotions, just as long as they're expressing something.

This concept takes care of a lot of questions.

- It provides us with a way to be artistically unique.

- In turn, it provides us with a great way to express some of that bottled-up pain inside.
And I've never seen someone who can bury their feelings forever - without it tearin' 'em up.
So why not rip your guitar up instead?

- It answers questions regarding soloing. While this exercise is not limited to improvising,
we can use it to great effect in this field. And lot of folks ask me "what scale should I use?"
While there's a wonderful world of scale application, at the end of the day we want to use the
scale to express our feeling, not the other way 'round!

- If you play what you feel, you'll never overplay! If the critics say you're using too many notes,
tell 'em you'd be glad to stop, but those voices in your head are hard to convince. ;)

Best of luck playing your blues. I'm sure you'll be surprised at how authentic you sound.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


"When a Navajo woman weaves a basket, she leaves a hole in it to let the spirit out."

The XM radio on, I was cruising noisily home last night...Over the rumble of the beautiful music of Flowmaster (the mufflers), I was relaxin' to some tunes.

Bam, there the lesson was, waiting for me. It usually ends up annoying me, and then explaining itself. Not unlike how I myself teach.

Since I never, ever, want to be a critic, I won't refer to the names or genres of musicians that taught me this lesson.

These guys I was listening to were very talented. Burning, soaring, toneful. The entire band was cookin', better than I'll ever be in that genre. There's a few of these talented guys, and they're also related.

When I listen to them, I hear technical perfection, stellar listening skills, amazing tone, experience, and dedication to the art form. I do notice something that's missing. Imperfection.

I didn't realize how important it was until last night. Leaving a hole in the music, just as the Indian woman leaves a hole in the basket to let the spirit out, is a hallmark of my favorite musicians.

When I listen to the imperfect glory of these guys or girls, I lean in to listen, and get thrown back by the magnitude of soul that emanates from the recordings.

If we examine the "basket case" again, we can see a few noteworthy points. (By the way, it could be a blanket that the crafts person left the hole in. The reference has escaped me.)

The Old Blues Guys

Why do we still like these cats? The modern age is full of better slide guitarists, talented
singers, it's fair share of injustice, and recorders that blow away the old technology, AND fit in your back pocket.

While everyone has their different reasons, to me, these guys had a big, gaping hole in their music. Plunking, wailing, and beating away on their guitars and harmonicas, these dudes got their feelings across with three chords. So genuine, and so real, the hole in their music was of a dimension to let enough soul out to save the entire stadium watching Joel Osteen and the Dentist's Pride. (If that guy decides to race motorcycles, I bet Johnson and Johnson Mint Waxed Floss will sponsor him.)

Eddie Van Halen

For a hundred bucks, you can go see this guy play the stadium circuit this fall. He's one of my favorites. I've got shoes, basketball hoops, and suits painted like his guitar. Every time I turn around, he's on the cover of the latest guitar mag, grinning 'cause he knows his replica guitar sells for about the price of a new mustang.

Is he the fastest guy around? No. Check out guys like Yngwie Malmsteen, Rusty Cooley, or Michael Angelo Batio for faster stuff.

How about guitar tricks? Two words. Stanley Jordan.

Perhaps he was blessed with better frontmen? How about Zakk Wylde playing behind OZZY?
(Last time I checked, Diamond Dave hasn't bitten any bats.)

So what's this guy's dealio? Again, this is just my take, but I think Eddie has a certain authenticity to his playing. He sounds real. There's a person on the other side of that record. He rocks the house, yet he's still believable. There's a hole in his playing that lets the soul out.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Talk about holes! The one in Stevie's music is so in your face, his soul roars through with it's signature subtlety, delicacy, and smooth sounds commonly found in a jet engine.

Stevie isn't the chops dog of the 80's (although he could burn). Nor is he known for his hip chord voicings, or harmonic innovation.

But man, he could play. And when I watch him, all I hear is soul. Less a guitarist, or even a musician, and more this strange, powerful force that pounds on the door of your spirit in the middle of the night, and barks "open."

John Coltrane

Johnny sure knew that saxophone. If you haven't heard this formidable jazz musician, do yourself a favor, and go buy one of his Cd's.

A contemporary of Miles Davis, and an important contributor to bebop, Coltrane pushed the harmonic boundary of jazz, especially with his tune "Giant Steps." A "shredder" and innovator, John could play fast, and slow. And he could make you cry.

There is a warmth to his playing that draws me in. I'm hearing a person, not a machine. Granted, a brilliant and practiced musician...But still a person.


Robert Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and John Coltrane. There's a dinner party for ya! We see that we have shredders, bluesmen, singers, and jazz cats. So this "brilliance in imperfection" idea is not the latest jab at glam rockers, or a snub to the jazzy among us.

I see this pattern, and resulting lesson, as a teaching of authenticity. They're expressing
a voice of themselves, not the voice of a scale book, or a lesson on music history. It's organic and alive, even if the musician has passed on to jam with Jimi Hendrix.

This realness is the difference between a walmart basket, and the one that's handmade by the old mountain man.

When true mastery is attained, the instrument, and the person, dissolve, and the music remains. If the musician concentrates too much on the instrument, and forgets to express with their hard earned skill, we hear a great athlete of the discipline, and the soul can be lost.


Hey, guess what! This doesn't have to take years. On the flip side, it could take forever. Just as some people have their head on straight by the time they're fifteen, and some folks will die worried, alone, and afraid, so to is it with the mastery of music.

So what are you gonna do?

"There's a fine line between genius and stupidity. The difference is stupidity has it's limits."
- Albert Einstein