Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hello, Waldorf! The George Lynch Clinic at Hot Licks Guitar Shop

George Lynch came by the local guitar shop last night on his Hal Leonard Clinic Tour. It was cool.

Hot Licks Guitar Shop had been advertising this clinic for a few months, and I couldn't wait. They've had some great players there before, including Doyle Dykes, Michael Angelo Batio, David Ellifson, Greg Kotch, and Brian Bromberg. But this was gonna take the cake. I mean, c'mon, this is the guy who wrote Mr. Scary!

The chairs were set up, and so was the stage. George stepped up to applause, and started shredding. After three blistering numbers, he paused, and said "Well, I just wanted to prove I can still play." Overachiever!

His chops were, of course, top shelf, and they sounded refreshingly inspired. I would venture to say that some of his playing, especially when he was jamming on his ESP strat guitar, sounded like a heavy metal SRV. The tone was very open compared to some of his peers. But the best part was the organic vibe Mr. Lynch managed to convey.

Oftentimes, it seems that the original inspiration of electric guitar is lost through relentless pursuit of technique. It's as if the diamond is perfectly cut and polished, only to lose it's sparkle. George's playing yesterday, however, hadn't lost that spark. When I see guitar heroes rock out, oftentimes I feel overwhelmed, beaten about the ears, and I want to give up. This time, I wanted to run home to practice! It had soul.

George then started to take questions. Answering the queries, and also using them as a springboard, he would chat a bit about other aspects relating to the original question after answering the person. It was very informative. He advised the audience to get involved in all aspects of the music industry, and brought up one that had never occurred to me: designing gear. Later in the night, he looked over at the house amps he was playing through, and said "Hey, I helped design that one!"

Somebody asked him how to get the George Lynch tone, and after jokingly referring the asker to his signature pieces of gear for just about everything in the signal chain, George showed his teaching stripes by stating that tone is all in your head and hands, and not necessarily in your amp. Very wise, and a refreshing departure from the standard clinic fare of "well, I feel the triple reinforced truss rod of the XYZ guitar gives me the sustain I absolutely need, so I'd recommend buying this guitar."

Probably the most interesting response of his was when someone asked him what scale modes he used. "I'm not familiar with those" was his frank and polite answer. "I've learned some shapes years ago, and now I don't think about them." (Emphasis mine.)

Bingo - First Charlie Parker saying "learn the changes, and then forget them," and now George Lynch echoing that sentiment.

He said that he had the Ultimate Guitar Solo playing in his head, and he never manages to quite get there. "I hope I never do!" he joked. In watching him play, it was obvious that he used whatever he needed to get the job done in pursuit of that Epic Solo. He didn't say "OK, I'm going to tap a Phrygian run now, followed by a series of diminished arpeggios moving down the cycle of fourths..." Nope, he just conversed with his guitar, and most of all, seemed to have a blast doing so.

It was a inspirational and informative performance, and if you get a chance to attend one of his clinics, I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Writing with elements


Doggone it, I'm behind on my blog! Geeze. I'm in the process of composing answers to some really good (and hard) questions folks have emailed me about ear training. Stay tuned, y'all.

And I've got another thing that's buggin' me. This is a non-partisan call for Sarah Palin to shut up, because she's ruining my writing style. She's depleting the world supply of apostrophes to replace the letter G. Gosh, now I've lost my style, and I'm havin' to watch what I'm sayin'. "Sir, there is an apostrophe shortage, so please watch your P's and Q's."

But here's something to think on in the meantime: I went out to see the leaves this weekend. Besides paying $11 for a sub, and chatting with a very nice police officer about the effectiveness of the tune up on my red Camaro (we both came to the conclusion that new spark plugs definitely make a difference,) I got a neat idea:

The next time you're stuck with songwriting, try writing about an element, such as wind. Music is delightfully non-specific, and to me, more effective than words when communicating about vague ideas or feelings. Or something as big as the wind.

I was walking through the autumn forest, and thinking about what the wind was. It has a stirring way of creeping up the mountainside, rustling your hair, and gently removing the ashes from your soul.

Or at least that's how I look at it. (I'm lucky that I didn't get busted for thinking weird thoughts.)

The wind is currently gusting across an inspiring sky, and trying to pry it's way into my studio. It rattles the signs down on the street, and is playing tennis with a piece of siding. It's also trying to rip the mullet poster off the wall, but that ain't gonna happen.

So now I'm off to try to put that into notes. Hey, one picture is worth a thousand words, but how many notes does it take to convey the idea of the Appalachian wind?

Try doing something like that next time you hit a wall with your songwritin'. Darn it, that was my last apostrophe!

- Josh

Friday, October 17, 2008

Girl Power


I have a shirt that reads "Feminist Chicks Dig Me." Surprisingly, I haven't gotten slapped yet. I was raised in a very progressive environment, so maybe that's why it gives me great glee to act like a male chauvinist pig.

But cro-magnum tendencies aside, I really do have a feminist statement to make today. This might take a minute, so hang in there. (Gee, I hope I don't lose macho-cred!)

16% of my students are girls. Yep, so don't blame me when I act like a goof, because I hang out with guy musicians all day. (We're known far and wide for our maturity.) This blog is for them.

I think we naturally gravitate towards heroes that are the same gender. I look up to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and my youngest female client looks up to Hannah Montana.

For us guy guitar players, we have it pretty good. 99% of rock guitar heroes are guys. I'd like to talk about the lack of emphasis on healthy female role models for the young women growing up today.

I was lucky enough to sit in with one of my student's bands last night. They played their first gig ever at their school talent show. It was awesome! Three hundred domestic catholic folks didn't know what hit 'em. Bam! We opened with Eye of the Tiger. I don't know for sure, but I would imagine that they could picture themselves as the guys from Survivor. Actually, they could pick from any one of the hundreds of male guitar heroes.

The acts that preceded the band consisted mainly of girls singing love songs. They did well. But I've been getting worried lately. I was talking to my mom, who was also in attendance last night. (She rarely misses my gigs, even if I'm just playing two songs for some students! She's the best!)

She noticed it, too. Where are the girl heroes?

Guys have Jimi Hendrix's pyrotechnics to study. Ozzy's irreverence to inspire. Eddie's finesse to inspire those long practice sessions.

It seems to me that many of the female songs are just about love, rejection, relationships, marriage, etc. All of this leads to....Domestic hell! Ha ha. OK, joking aside, these poor girls are up there looking awkward, average, and uncomfortable pretending that they're some diva crying about some guy.

Ladies, I hate to break it to you, but guys are creeps. We're not worth devoting most of your life to, and we certainly can't make your life worthwhile. (I think a lot of guys need to be reminded this about girls, too.)

I so want to see a girl up there, shredding up the guitar, and pretending she's a juke box hero (with staaaaars in her eyes!)...Just like my band did last night.

Ladies, let's find you someone you can admire for their skill at the guitar. Let's find you some chicks that folks respect for their guitar heroics, not just how they look, or how cute they sing.

Here's a few for you to start:

Jennifer Batten
(It's hard to tell, but she's the blonde. ;)

Bonnie Raitt

Susan Tedeschi

Arch Enemy (She's not a guitarist, but she rocks!)

And if you don't see a female hero you like, it could be...The space is open: You be the hero for your fellow girls.

Now, I must go act like a caveman, or I will totally lose my spirit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Where are the girl heroes?

Hey hey hey!

OK, loyal readers from around the world (all two of you....) I need some help! I'm working on a snazzy blog post, but I need the names of some of your favorite female musicians. (No, Poison doesn't count!)

Feel free to email 'em to me, or leave names in the comments section.

Thanks for your help!

- Josh

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A lesson: Q&A: How to improve groove as a guitarist


Here's a darn good question that comes from someone we shall call "Mr. Eastwood."

Mr. E writes:

Hello Josh.. i just read your "Get On The Good Foot: Timing For Guitarists"on and it was very informative.. Thank you. I've been struggling with 'timing' for quite a while now...Maybe 8 months...I never thought about it before until I started to show some of my awesome riffs to friends, in the local music scene here in Utah and.. They have all said "your riffs are amazing.. But they aren't in time." So I've gone on a quest.. To get my music in 'time' but I haven't had any luck. I've also had a hard time understanding stuff like 4/4 time because through my many talks.. I've been told its not 'how fast you play something.. i.e.: BPM' .. and it's not how many times you play something within a certain amount of time.. and if its neither.. I'm just lost. I was wondering if you had any advice on helping me understand.. and/or possibly any other timing advice?

Yo Mister Eastwood! A very good question. And thanks for the compliments! First off, it's probably something in the Utah water that's tripping you up. I come from Lithuania, and they have the same problem. I think it's called "Caucasianitis." Ha ha! Jokes in good fun about my own color aside, I've got some stuff to help you.

First - congratulations about embarking on your quest! Remember, the dragon is never found, or killed, easily. Rock on and you'll eventually get there. Now, for some real advice.

Let's go ask Spongebob for some advice. Check this out. OK, so it's dubbed in, but do this for me. Count "1 2 3 4" along with the beats. Notice how there's an emphasis every time you say "one?" The band accents this beat. There are four beats to the cycle.

To offer a clear explanation, 4/4 time is felt with, again, four beats to the cycle. The cycle is technically called a measure. Another common time signature you've heard is 3/4, usually found in a waltz. It's counted "1 2 3 1 2 3" But don't worry about that right now.

Just count 1 2 3 4 along with the entire song. This will start to get you accustomed to "feeling" the beat. Beat is ideally felt, not intellectualized. To get it at first, we need to think. But the goal is to dance, not analyze. The good news is - you've been around 4/4 time all your life.

Next, we need to recognize the importance of beat 1. A drummer buddy showed me a cool trick once. Pull up the song again, and start dancing a lousy dance. Just shuffle your feet, and clap your hands. People will typically shuffle their feet on beats 1 and 3, and clap on 2 and 4 (unless you're my mother, bless her soul.)

Now, once you're shuffling and clapping, try playing a few riffs on your guitar. You can use existing riffs, or you can make some new ones. Sometimes, the stuff you've written might fall into an odd time signature. They're not intrinsically weird, just not 4/4.

5/4 time is a close cousin, and in a song written in this time, you'd count to five before starting your cycle over. The beat doesn't change, just the length of the cycle. Dave Brubeck's version of "Take Five" is a great example of 5/4 time. Notice how, if you start counting 1 2 3, etc, the riff will start again after you say "five."

So some of your riffs may be in a different "frame" than your buddies are used to hearing. The band Dream Theater is famous for composing wickedly complicated and awesome metal riffs in odd time signatures (or meters, as some folks like to say.)

Now, a beat can be subdivided into smaller pieces. The size of the pie doesn't change, just the number of pieces. Just as you can cut a pie so there's twice as many slices of scrumptious key lime awesomeness, but they're half the size, so to is it with riffs.

You can play over the same beat, but twice as fast. (Or three, four, six, eight, five, seven, you name it!) Try this for me: Cue up Jukebox Hero again, and count 1 2 3 4. Now, in between those down beats (as they're technically called), say "And." It'll pan out like this:

"1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and "

The numbers haven't moved, you've just added something in the middle. You've effectively doubled the number of pieces of musical pie. This is called subdividing the beat.

Next, grab your guitar, and strum down on beats 1 2 3 4. Once you're comfortable that you've got it in time with the band, add upstrokes in the spaces between the downstrokes. The downs are getting any faster, you've just doubled the time the pick hits the strings.

That should get you started there.

The second thing you need to do is a.) either use , or b.) even better, buy a metronome. Use it faithfully. It is the best investment you can make at this point. Order one today!

I hope this helps, Mr. E., and please feel free to ask follow up questions.

Quest on!


Hot Buys at Musician's Friend

Hot Buys at Musician's Friend

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Cosmic Chuck - October

Hey Everyone!

The October edition of The Cosmic Chuck (my way cool newsletter) is available now! If you'd like to receive a copy, just drop me an email at:

I'll send ya one!

Rock on,

Monday, October 6, 2008

George Lynch clinic


There's a George Lynch clinic going on at Hot Licks in a few weeks! Students: I've reserved a few places for you. Let me know if you want to go (and you do), and we'll work out the details.

Can you say Field Trip?!!

Wow! I can't hardly wait! This is gonna ROCK. Email me for info!

School of Rock

*Mumble Mumble* It's Monday Morning!

Whew...The weekends are more tiring than the week sometimes!

But I got to do something cool this weekend. One of my clients asked me to join him and his buddies' band for his school talent show. I'll be playing one show with 'em, and it's gonna rock!

I went to the first rehearsal on Friday, and it was a lotta fun. I sort of snapped into my Jack Black School of Rock mode, and got into explaining the finer points of incinerating a stage. I had a blast!

It really made me realize how important it is for folks to jam with other musicians. It's very different than sitting in your practice room, and it can really help solidify one's skills. Grab a few buddies, and have a jam session - even if it's just another guitar player. It's fun, it's a team, and it's a super thing you can do to improve your skills.

I'll keep y'all posted on how the show goes. I can't wait!

Rock on!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Happy Birthday, Stevie Ray Vaughan!


Today is the birthday of three people I know. A buddy named Lisa, my Mom's friend Bob, and of course, the one, the only Stevie Ray Vaughan!

Wow, what a guitarist. If you haven't listened to him before, I suggest you run out right away and buy the following CDs:

- In Step
- Texas Flood
- The Real Deal - Greatest Hits

But the absolute best thing you can do is to get the DVD Live from Austin City Limits.

Buy it!

Happy Birthday, Stevie Ray. Long live the blues!

Hey, check out this vid of one of my favorite SRV songs:

Willie the Wimp

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What to play over jazz changes...

"Yo Bro, what do I play over these chords?" is a question I get a lot from my students.

I usually have some lame answer for 'em, like "well, the thirds and sevenths are the signature tones, arpeggios are nice, keys are better, etc."

However, driving home tonight after a day of teaching and playing music for the local chamber of commerce ("takin' care of business!"), I flipped on the Three Days Grace song Never Too Late. What a great band, and what a cool song.

I lost a friend recently to suicide. This song always makes me think of her. A line from the song sings "And even if I say it'll be alright, still I hear you say you want to end your life."

Sometimes I wish badly that I could go back and tell her just one thing. But I wonder what it would be? That she mattered infinitely more than she realized? (Well, realizing that one mattered at all would be infinitely more to one who sadly fails to see their intrinsic light and chooses to snuff it out.) That "this too shall pass?" Be kind to yourself? What would I say, if I had five minutes to sit at the kitchen table with her? Could I rise to the challenge of trying to express so much in so little? Could the instrument of my voice carry the message I wanted, even if my mind could wrap itself around the task?

Now, what if I was dumb? No, no, boys and girls. Unable to speak. What if I was gagged, and the only thing to communicate this anthology of human thought, emotion, drama, heartbreak, hope, and connection guitar?

That's what I should play over the chord changes. If I could distill this into one note, phrase, or song...That would transcend any theoretical concerns or tonal qualms. It would take on meaning.

I guess it's really the only thing that matters.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chamber gig

Hey Y'all!

STUDENTS - I'm playing at the Chamber of Commerce mixer this Thursday. If you were gonna check it out, call me first. 240-682-2801