Thursday, January 31, 2008

Yo! Blog News! Yo!

Good morning, world!

It's hard to believe it's my littlest brother's 16th birthday today. I remember when he was a small, warm, wet bundle that didn't say much. He still doesn't say much, but he's almost taller than me. Time sure flies!

And now, for the super duper exciting BLOG NEWS.

I'm now proud to host Musician's Friend banner ads on The Doghouse.
This is pretty darn cool, to say the least. A.) They look cool. B.)Musician's Friend always has great prices, and I buy a substantial amount of gear from them.
C.) If you click on the links on my site, and buy something from 'em, I get a bit of a reward for sending you their way. It's no extra cost to you, and it
helps keep the internet free. If you like my articles, or get a laugh out of my blogs, this is a great way to ensure their continuity.

Speaking of that, I was just thinking the other day how important it is to support each other. Everyone's got something to offer, and the internet is such a great venue for knowledge in general, and music knowledge in particular. I sincerely enjoy blogging, writing, and teaching. Folks across the world write and ask questions about my articles, and I'm always glad to help 'em out. (If I haven't written you back, the inbox monster has eaten your email. Try resending it.) By having advertising on my site, it lets me keep on giving you guys what you come here to find - quality information, and clear thinking. OK, maybe you don't come here to find that. But regardless...Now I can keep on providing info, and eat. It's a good thing to be able to do - eat, that is! It's hard to teach theory when your stomach is grumblin'.

Check out the links! You'll find some great stuff at even better prices. You'll be helping yourself, and the internet. Keep it free!

Local yokels - Don't forget I'm having The Super Duper Guitar Club this SATURDAY, February 2nd, at 3:15 pm. It's at my studio, and it's free. Come on by, and bring a buddy. It's gonna be fun.

Rock on, rockers, and I will see ya next time. Hey, did you see that banner ad? Boy it looks professional. (I'm such a little kid sometimes!)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Listen to the mix

Musicianship requires a great many skills, and listening is no exception.

When playing in a band, duo, or ensemble, it's especially important. Not only are you listening
to yourself, but you should be listening to the band as a whole.

During my short time as a sound engineer, I enjoyed listening to the band I was mixing, and creating the best possible sound for them. (Well, sometimes the bands were terrible, and I used them to build up my sonic endurance!) I could change different aspects of the sound by altering the timbre of various instruments. My favorite area of concentration was the kick drum. This small piece of the entity was vital for building a killer mix. (If it rearranged the front row's internal organs, it was considered adequate.)

My mixing lead to a gig with a band that I engineered for. (Perhaps they just wanted me out from behind the console!) I stumbled upon the following:

Listening to how your part relates to the music/band as a whole is not only vital, it's fun.
Pretend stepping out in front of the stage, and listening with the critical ear of the sound man.
What does the mix need? While you can't control the kick drum if you're playing guitar, you actually have more control over the mix than the engineer. You can change volume, timbre, and what you're playing! If you think the mix is too busy - step back and let it breathe. (It takes a selfless musician to do this, but it's worth it. Plus, it gives you a break!) Perhaps the drums and vocals aren't lining up quite right. Find a way to bridge the groove and melody.

It's the change from being a robot, a human sampler, to a team player and viable, dynamic musician.

You'll like it. It's fun.

See ya in two,

Friday, January 25, 2008

A slight edge can cut

Happy Friday.

I should open up a Rock 'n Roll restaurant that's named "TJIF" (Thank Jimi It's Friday.)

Competition. This is a theme I keep yelling about (and I bet I'm yelling louder than you!)

It seems like when we're on the bottom rung of any discipline, we have no competition. We know we're nothing, we look to the upper echelons with an inspirational awe, and we buckle down and work. We can learn a lot in this mindset.

Interestingly enough, as soon as we're on the second rung of this endless ladder, competition enters with a force.

I was at the gym the other day. (Turns out this weightlifting is going to teach me a lot about music.) Anyways, a guy walked in who was skinnier than I was. My eyes almost bugged out of my head! In the three weeks I've been a member, I've been the smallest, weakest, most pathetic ape in that apehouse. All of the other guys are so strong, you just tune 'em out, and go about benching fuzzy slippers, or something heavy like that.

But there was skinny dude. "Ah ha!" I said. "Look at that fool - he's not lifting that bar correctly."

Wow. I realized how stupid my inner dialogue sounded. Here I was, and I don't even know how to do a dozen things correctly on that floor. But since I was now on the second rung, that slight edge was cutting me. And instead of concentrating on my workout, I started comparing. And the gym is the wrong place to do that.

So is the guitar. Why is it that we're so fiercely competitive when it comes to the instrument? Our quest to rule gets pretty nasty sometimes. And what's the point, anyway? I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The guitar, treated in this manner, is a useless, overpriced, fancy noisemaker.

This slight edge, being every so slightly stronger, faster, or more knowledgeable, is deadly.

I've read about it in stories - Two friends are alone in the world, in dire poverty, and without hope. Suddenly, one friend receives unexpected slightly good fortune, and instead of sharing it's joys, uses it to set himself above his friend.

Perhaps it's two normal people, muddling along in their day. One friend does well in the stock market, and buys his way out of his current class situation. Leaving, of course, the other party to be looked down upon.

I've also heard this happens in social issues around the world.

The twisted logic to this is: If there's someone to look down upon, then I must be climbing up!

You can see how dangerous, and unhealthy, this logic is. It just feels bad, too!

I propose an idea: Don't compare to other people. But if you really must, compare yourself to your past skills. If you can play better than you did a year ago, super. If you can play better than you did a week ago, superb. Imagine the guitarist from last week as a separate person, and you can pit your current skills against them.

Hopefully, you'll win every time.

But why play to win? How about...Play for playing's sake?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The secret ingredient

What makes music tick? What makes a song really angry, or sad, or happy?

I was listening to some old school metal the other day. I liked both the bands on my mp3 player. They were both superstars, and very good musicians, to boot. But try as one band might, they just sounded wimpy. Sure, they had the heavy guitars. The disturbing lyrics. But they sounded like an angry poodle, compared to the Doberman roar of their comparison band.

So what's the secret ingredient? It's not the settings on the gear. It's not the lyrics.
It's not the singer. What could it be? I'm not quite sure. I was reading a very strange book yesterday, and it mentioned how Mozart "went beyond the notes."

Hmmm...A new thought, but an interesting one. If notes played are the end result, the chain of events traced back might look like this:

The notes emanating from the amplifier come from the notes played on the guitar, which in turn come from our hands, which receive a jumbled signal from our brain. After all, very few of us can play exactly what's in our head. But where does the brainwave come from? Perhaps we could say the feeling creates the brainwave.

Pausing here, we have a viable explanation for why it matters so much to feel the emotion we wish to get across. A piece of music played without intense meaning becomes listless, and quite frankly, boring.

But to wax very zennish....Where does the feeling come from? Perhaps we should think about that, and try to play from that space.

Pondering all of this, it's clear to me what a small world 12 notes encompass. If I play from that 12 note wide world, I might just be limiting myself. But if I go back a few steps, and play from there, my inspiration is infinite. (or actually, in the case of my mind, quite finite!)

Now, a few observations to get you back to reality after reading this post. While walking in to the grocery store, I saw something incredible in the parking lot.

Did you know that Volvo slapped a label on one of their standard looking cars that says: "Police Interceptor?" That must be to catch all the grannies fleeing from the feds.

Whew, I'm tellin' you...Now what are you reading this for? Go practice!

But wait! I have a "commercial" I made. Check it out at:

Monday, January 21, 2008

You can lead a horse to water...

I was driving around the other night, and I was grumbling to myself.

(This is not a rare occurrence, but I'm working on changing that!)

Since I'm a writer and a teacher, I get some interesting comments left about my writings.
Some folks like what they read, and some don't. But some people out there are just lazy when it comes to learning stuff. (By the way, in person students, I'm not referring to you.)

You can lead a horse to water, instruct him on the proper footings, and tell him how to figure out if the water is too cold before he drinks, but...He opts for Pepsi.

And so my grumbling went.

One of the tougher lessons I've learned is that when something really irks me, there's usually a personal reason. And sure enough, there was. I saw how I was a stubborn steed, and how I had priceless opportunities all around me, but...I was ordering a Coke.

So what holds us back? Why do our chops suffer?

Picking on myself for a minute, let's see:

1. It's not because I don't have access to information, 90% of it is free. (The other stuff,
that teachers teach you, is actually available, it's just the presentation you're paying for.)

2. It's not because I don't have the "right" guitars. Gear nowadays is really good, even if
you've got the cheapest rig around.

3. It's not because I'm not "coordinated enough" or "talented enough." Steve Vai says
if he was truly talented, he'd be a lot better. Now, we all know he's an alien with super human whammy bar force fields, but he says it's just work and discipline.

Hmm...No wonder I was irked. Yet another reminder for me to stop wasting resources, and start drinking!

Err...the educational water, that is.

What are some of the resources available to you? Here's a few ideas:

1. The internet! If you're reading this, I would guess that has occurred to you. There's
some fantastic sites, from tab sites like, instructional sites like, and then inspiration found on youtube.

2. Music teachers. If you've never taken lessons, give 'em a shot! Make SURE you feel you have a good teacher. You don't have to like 'em, but you'll be able to tell if you're learning something, or not. There's a lot of good, and bad, teachers running around out there. But you'll be able to tell. But don't limit yourself to guitar teachers! I've learned a ton from bass teachers, drum teachers, and vocal teachers. Music is not instrument specific. Remember that.

3. Old guys. They may look funny, and have even stranger ideas about how the world should be run but...They've been around longer (even if it's just ten years! Ha ha!) If you can find an old guy guitar player, they just might be able to show you a lot. Even if it's just watching them play.

4. What you've got. I once asked one of my guitar teachers for some more material. He countered by asking me if I had learned everything he had given me so far. "You'd be the man if you could play everything in that folder." And he was right. Now, it might be hard to play every lick in every book you own...But it might be worth at least getting the point of each book in your collection. I'm always very guilty of blazing ahead, and not learning along the way. Comparing music to eating (a parallel I'm always drawing), we might want to consider "chewing our food" (information) 100 times before we put it on the shelf, never to look at it again.

Wow, now I'm all fired up. I think I'll go dig up my old lesson notes, and check 'em out.

I hope you'll ask yourself what's holding you back. I'm sure you won't find a good answer, because there is no excuse....

not to rock!

Now, go practice, and get super duper good. (And have fun.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What to do...

Good morning!

I'm sitting here, slumped over my keyboard, groggy and cold. My inner author is complaining that there's nothing to say. But actually, that's a very good point.

How many times have you been jamming with friends, or on stage, and you run out of musical ideas? You might be scared, or maybe just uninspired. What do you usually do?

I almost always end up doing the same thing I do when I run out of things to say in English. I say "ummmm......uh....well."

And that sounds bad.

Sometimes, I'll have too much to say. (In both languages!) I'll start off with one musical idea, toss it aside in a hurry, and blaze through an incoherent stew of half-formed riffs.

That doesn't sound very good, either.

I think following the advice of one of my old guitar teachers is a great idea. He told me once "Don't play every lick you know in every solo."

Wise advice, indeed. If we take one simple idea, and then follow it to listen to where it goes, magic can happen.

If we were going to embark on a journey, and we ran down one road, only to switch directions suddenly, scorning the eastern path for the northern road, and just as suddenly "look to the west" (as Zepplin would say...) How far do you think we'll get?

Letting one idea unfold can also help us when we don't have anything to say. Start with a theme, and follow it. You might be just as surprised as the audience when you find the end of that unplanned and unpaved musical road.

Shhh! Listen....

Monday, January 14, 2008

Lessons available

Hey all you Maryland, DC, and Virginia readers!

I'm adding a few hours to my teaching schedule. I'm booking lessons on Saturdays now, and I'm available earlier in the afternoons from Monday through Thursday. If you're looking for lessons, come on by! The first lesson is free, so you can try 'em out without any cash down. (I sound like a car dealership...)

And now, for the small bit of information...

With the advent of electronic tuners, many of us are falling behind on the skill of tuning by ear.

(Of course, I've seen some cats tune by ear through a blaring marshall stack - and they don't even get in perfect tune. If you're on stage, I'm an advocate of silent tuning.)

It's a simple enough thing to practice, and like most simple things, can provide a great challenge for your ear. When you sit down to practice today, try tuning by ear. You can always verify it with an electronic tuner, but try your ear at first. It's a skill you'll be glad you've earned.

Rock on!

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Are you a big fish in a small pond, or vice versa?

I remember when I was about sixteen, I thought I was the bomb. Armed with my dangerous Jackson RR3 V guitar, I was blowing the roof off garages with neoclassical shred in a town that Good Charlotte called home. (Waldorf, FYI.)

A few years later, I started teaching next door to some real musicians, and realized my mistake. Actually, there were several. With the advent of YouTube, it further highlighted what I'm about to tell you.

If you think you're good, you probably need to jump into the next size up in fish ponds.

I was a big fish in a really tiny pond. The pond was about...two garages large. Once I started really learning, and being around some guys who knew their stuff, I felt like my skills had gone drastically downhill. However, just like that goldfish that looks so tough in a fishbowl, and then appears infinitesimally small in the ocean, so to happened with me. My talent didn't diminish - the field just got tougher.

Now for the good news. They also say that the fish's growth is tied to the size of the body of water. In other words, the bigger the pond, the bigger the fish. I'm not sure if this is true on a scientific front, but I know it's correct for skill.

Presented with an ocean of unknowing, or sometimes, like the unwanted goldfish, the toilet and adjoining sewer of uncertainty, we are forced to either learn, or die (musically.)

There's the guys who, upon seeing the pure genius of the guitar gods, loudly declare that they'll never be that good, and hang up their guitars in defeat. (Or worse, continue to inhabit their small pond.)

Then there's the doers, the movers, and the shakers, who say "That is cool, and I've got to do that."

I just jointed the gym a few days ago, and that's a perfect case in point. I had been working out at my house (a small pond,) and feeling pretty good about my progress. Then, I walked into the weight room at Gold's Gym. Man, I feel like a skinny little twig!

But I'm also inspired to really work hard, and to really push myself to get in shape. I can either quit, or get my act together. Just like when I'm around great musicians.

The decision to quit wishing, and start reaching for the stars is a very exciting one. I'm working on that with my music and with my workout. And well, I should probably do the same with my whole life!

How about you? Ready to jump out of the koi pond, into the ocean? It's a bit chilly, but the surf's up. What are you waiting for? Get on YouTube, and instead of leaving a nasty comment for some tremendously talented person, get back to the woodshed! Let it remind you of how far you have to go, and more importantly, how far you can go. Listen to that arena tour coming to a town near you. Don't you really want that? Make it happen. Better get started. There's not a minute to waste.

Rock on!

(As a side note, I'm very excited about this cheap little mp3 player I got...Now I won't be forced to work out listening to lousy rap videos and Hillary Duff songs...For example, I was on the treadmill the other day, and the tv showed a "nun" in a short skirt...Yodeling. It was Gwen Stefani. How the heck am I supposed to get anything done with that? Hendrix bless mp3's.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Build your library

I was talking to a buddy of mine today, and he said he just got the 1500th song on his iPod. Way to go!

Another one didn't want to get the iPod Touch, as it wouldn't hold enough songs. Far out.


Without sounding like a broken record (pun intended!) here's another kick in the butt to turn your iPod into an electronic lab of million dollar ideas. Namely, get more songs!

One of my teachers gave me a precious grain of wisdom once. He said that my listening library should be as big as my reading library.

(And both should be large!)

Our listening is where we get our ideas and influences. Ultimately, it defines our musical careers.

I saw a great quote in Guitar Player once that said "If you want to play metal, listen to metal. If you want to play blues, listen to blues."

And this is very true. You are, and you play, what you listen to. Exciting, really! Want to inject some latin flavor in your black metal? Flip on the Spanish radio station.

FYI, here's what I've been diggin' lately. Sure, it really doesn't matter, but at least you'll know where I'm coming up with these crazy ideas!

- Mike Stern "Ha Ha Hotel."

- Ozzy Osbourne "Fool Like You", "Don't Blame Me", "11 Silver" and many others.

- Yngwie Malmsteen "I Am A Viking"

- Foo Fighters "The Pretender"

- Survivor "Eye of the Tiger" (seriously!)

- Joe Satriani - various tunes

- Van Halen - Roth-era Various tunes

Subject to change without notice!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

More obscure gents (and ladies)

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! (Actually, now it's Monday, but it was Sunday when I started...)

We're goin' fishin' for some of the lesser known greats!

With that mopar madness commercial spoof out of my way, have you heard these cats before?

Mike Stern

Jennifer Batten
(The lady in the video.)

Victor and Regi Wooten

Greg Howe

Wayne Krantz

Go watch 'em! And learn...

Friday, January 4, 2008

Heavy or light?

It's the first post of the New Year!

Well, after a few weeks of lazing around, watching movies, eating bad, and not practicing...I'm back at it, and not standing for it anymore! I just got done working out with pitifully light weights...and that brings me to a lesson.

I was discussing something with a client yesterday that I think would be helpful for everyone.
We were talking about the fun and not fun aspects of learning guitar. Drawing a chart, we listed the fun stuff, and the "not" stuff.

(By the way, you might want to try this yourself. It can be very helpful.)

Every discipline has drudgery in it, and the guitar is no exception. It also seems that there's a direct ratio between tediousness and reward - the more discipline we must exercise, the greater the benefit. Take scales, or sweep picking. Not exactly an entertaining thing to master. But once you've got it, watch out, world! You'll be on the sonic warpath, burning down towns with the blazing arpeggios from...heck. (My students read this blog!)

Enter the encyclopedia.

My mom's friend Bob gave me a neat book. I've mentioned it before. It's "The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding" by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's the weightlifting equivalent of John Petrucci's "Rock Discipline" (if you don't have it, you should.)

Before I started reading the book, I was just working out to put in the time, and not pushing myself at all. But it's given me new perspective on exercise. Mainly, how I've got such a long way to go from being a skinny twig, but the second point is: You've got to push yourself if you want to "make your biceps look like a Rand McNally road atlas." (Ya gotta love the Governator!)

How do you do that? Do you use those girly foam padded five pound toning weights they sell at dollar stores?

Or do you use the iron plates at the gym, to really push yourself?

As a recurring question, you might ask for the twenty seventh time, "what the heck does this have to do with guitar?"

Back to our easy and hard list of musical skills. It's hard to convince yourself that a boring task is fun. I'll be honest. I really hate to practice arpeggios, and I'm certainly not a fan of working on sight reading. We've always known this, from the time we were little kids, and teachers tried to convince us that multiplication tables could be "fun!" (No white lady rappin' the times tables was gonna convince ME, 'cause I was a tough customer for a little kid.) So here's the new idea...

The new idea

Instead of "fun" and "boring" categories, let's break 'em up into "light" and "heavy" categories.

This changes everything. Sure, it's more fun to bench girly purple foam toning weights. It's easy, you don't get tired, and you can do it really fast! (Isn't speed everything, guitarists?)

But it's more rewarding to almost kill myself, scrunch up my face, or get stuck under a bar, with heavy plates on it. (OK, I DID get stuck with really LIGHT weights a few days ago. I'm tellin' you, I've got a long way to go!)

Consider the boring stuff the heavy weights.

This change in viewpoint - from boring to heavy, from drudgery to important, can be revolutionary.

When you feel the boredom setting in...Don't yawn - feel the burn!

Hasta La Vista!