Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Cosmic Chuck

Hey hey hey!

I've got something cool cooking. It's a new online newsletter! It's called The Cosmic Chuck.
Still on the burner, I'm hoping to email the first edition either tomorrow or early next week.

It's a short newsletter filled with well, news. Plus, guitar advice, featured students, and stories about the folks in the poodleman community. Gear reviews will eventually find their way into the script, as will neat exercises, and a bunch of other cool stuff.

I used to publish a newsletter called The Pound. However, it was in print, and limited to my clients. With the advent of The Chuck, everyone will be able to be a part of the fun!

It's mission: Step on the Ant of Apathy!

Drop me an email at if you'd like to be added to the monthly mailing list. It's free, of course, and you can unsubscribe at any time. If you enjoy the blogs, you'll love The Chuck! And you'll probably eventually be featured in it.

Drop me an email, and say "sign me up, bro!"

See ya there!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Prince of Darkness, meet King of Pop

Oh my word.

I don't know what's happening to me.

I think it started when I cut my hair. Like a musical Samson, my shredding superpowers were locked in my locks. Severed from my head, they went into the garbage, along with any skill I might have.

Oh, it's a bad, bad business. My Dream Theater CD's sit idle, and what's on my playlist? Well, there's respected rock fare such as Ozzy, Hendrix, SRV....And then there's Michael Jackson.

One of my clients wanted to learn "Billie Jean," and doggone it, that is a catchy tune. I guess there's a reason why Thriller did relatively well..! I can see all my super heavy metal readers shaking their heads in disgust, and burning the effigy of Pop. I would have a few years ago, too.
One thing I've been noticing about Pop, however. There's a reason why it sells more records than the latest Petrucci solo album. And man, I hate most pop. I usually equate it with twelve year old airheads snapping gum and listening to the ferret like canuck singing about "sk8er bois,"
or worse yet, The Brit. (I had this weird dream the other night that I was the new owner of Ms. Spears' pet tropical fish, and that nobody was going to believe me, but that's another story...)

Now, finally getting to the point. Pop teaches a powerful lesson. Music that people like sells records. Ha ha! And we can be a bit more specific - catchy stuff is good once in a while.
One of my recurring themes is how each style of music has a particular quality, or energy. Metal's got the "rip your face off" thing happening, Jazz is the Infinite Cool...And Pop is singable. Even the instrumental parts. Am I saying cut your hair, trade your axe-dripping-dragon-blood guitar for a conservative one, give up arpeggios, and start writing love songs? NOOO. But, we can all learn something from the stuff that people generally like. I guess that's why it's called "popular" music.

Hey, I think the successful guys in rock and metal do this. Just check out "Iron Man" for a singable riff! How about the intro to "Crazy Train?" The Prince of Darkness and the King of Pop aren't on completely different pages. And everybody scrunches up their face and rocks out to the air guitar anthem of "Smoke on the Water."

So check it out - perhaps in the quest for musical excellence, world domination, and superhuman technique...We could add "singable" to just one or two riffs....It won't mean you've gotta moonwalk. (But I plan on learning!)

Walk On!

PS. I wonder if you could headbang and moonwalk at the same time..?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lunch with Jimi

Yo yo yo!

A question that pops up in conversations I have is: "What's your passion?"

For some, it's music. Others, it's selling cars. The neighbor might find life's answers in his orchid collection, and your aunt might have followed a call to God at age 15. For many, the answer to this question is not clear, and the source of much deliberation and oftentimes, frustration. I often wonder if music is "what I'm meant to do." I love playing to the crowd, but I'm not big on winding up mic cables.

A buddy once defined the question as such:

If God came down, and she told you that if you keep playing guitar, everyone would cast you out, and you'd die penniless and alone...A true passion is if you keep playing.

Now, that always elicits a "Faceman" response from me (see "The A Team" for reference.)
"I don't know, Hannibal.......There's a lot of mic cables to wind!"

At lunch the other day with some friends, the subject came up. Most folks don't know what theirs is, myself included. I would venture to say "music," but I falter for the reason that there might be something out there that's more to me.

Here's something that popped out of my mouth:

For me, music is meaningful when I connect to "the source." I'm not exactly sure what this is, but it takes on a life of it's own. My music is a vehicle for that connection, a channel for that source. But other folks find it in different places. A pilot may remark they feel "most alive" when pushing an F-16 through it's stuff. A hospice worker finds deepest meaning in helping the dying. Perhaps it's the same thing.

So, if the source is "God", which I hesitate to use, but it makes it easier, it's like we're having lunch with God. That's what we're all after. A pilot will fly to lunch, and his plane is the vehicle. A race car driver will drive to lunch. I'll take my tour bus. Different vehicles and modes of transportation to lunch, but we're all after the same thing - A lunch date with the almighty (I think his name is Jimi! Ha!)

Here's the disclaimers: I'm not a religious person at all. If I identified with any organized religion, which I do not, I would probably fall under the Buddhist umbrella. I hesitate to use the term God in this context, and in this blog, but I think it's the most accurate and easily understood term for our illustrative purposes.

But on the subject of passion, perhaps each discipline is really just another path up the same mountain. So don't practice to play fast - practice to connect! Bad technique gets in the way, and slows you down on the way to lunch.

As Jimi would say in Voodoo Chile, "Don't be late!"

Rock on!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ante Up!


Boy it's warm in Accokeek. The pack of gum on the desk is melting. But that's no matter!

What's up in the crazy world of guitar on a crazy hot Monday? A nifty new practice idea. Yep, more ideas from the weight room. I ran into an old buddy, and he's Mr. Super Fit. He told me of a great workout routine. You may have heard of it.

You take a deck of playing cards, and assign an exercise to each suit. Say, pull ups are spades, push ups are diamonds, hearts would denote a bench press, and clubs are suitable, signifying a few rounds on a punching bag.

Each number would represent how many of that certain exercise you're to do. You start off with 52 cards, and see how far you can get in the deck! In our example, if you flip a five of spades, you'd do five pull ups.

Let me tell you, it's a killer. And a nifty way to break up a workout.

Well, why not do this with guitar (or any other musical instrument?) Try it by assigning picking to spades, legato playing (hammer on and pull off) to Hearts, sweeping to Diamonds, and string skipping to Clubs. (Of course, feel free to vary the practice material and suit assignment!)

Instead of reps, use the value denoted on the face of the card to represent minutes. Flipping a ten of Diamonds would mean ten minutes of sweeping.

Be warned, this is a six hour plus practice routine, and most of us don't have time to complete a deck.

I think it's a fun idea, and I suggest inventing your own ways to use the paste boards to aid your quest of sonic domination.

Rock on!

(By the way! The new is up and running! Check it out at )

Thursday, June 5, 2008

War Zone Instruction

Yo Rockers!

Man oh man. I'm always going on about how much I love the window in my teaching studio. Well, when severe thunderstorms and a tornado warning swept the Washington, DC area yesterday, I was ready to holler Auntie Em!

After the worst had passed, I went outside and watched the sky light up with the fury of the electromagnetic force. As ten gazillion volts arced across the Waldorf sky, and reminded middle class to scuttle away to their safe places, a lonely train rumbled behind the grocery store.
Now, trains are one of my favorites. They're just cool. They make the ground shake. But this train was a girly man indeed compared to the electric atmosphere that was hammering the ground twenty miles away.

It brought up the question of power. Power in music is awesome. A few musicians popped into my mind.

Stevie Ray Vaugahan.




(Of course, these are my views and opinions, and I'm sure you've got your favorite powerhouses.) How does one get that raw, unbridled fury? Practicing scales can help you channel it, and give control, but it's still not the source. Great gear will produce the sound, but it's not the only factor. (I remember when a friend of the family came over and totally rocked an itty bitty little keyboard with a Christmas song...The keyboard was junk, but they knew how to play, and it was unstoppable.)

I don't have an answer, but I think the place to start is by osmosis. Seek out sources of power, and learn from them. Put some coins on a train track, and stand back as the train flattens 'em. It's fun, you get a cool trinket, and you realize you're a frail little bug. It's great.

Watch a thunderstorm instead of TV!

Go hiking in the deep woods, and feel the power of the stillness and silence.

Keep this in mind when you're playing, and muster that intensity and power. Hey, if you get the power of one one thousandth of a lightning strike, you'll set the venue on fire.

Rock on!