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