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!