Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 - A decade of guitar!


What is UP, yo?! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Super Solstice, Krazy Kwanzaa, and you know the drill.....I hope y'all had a great holiday, whatever one you celebrated.

Wow, hard to believe the decade's almost gone. The last ten years have been definitive for me. I started playing guitar in 1999, so everything you know me for has happened in the first decade of the second millennium since ol' JC did away with the whole BC, know what I'm sayin'?

I have two things to say. 1. Thank you. 2. Rock on!

I, for one, am super duper excited about 2010. How 'bout you? What are you gonna do? Make some big plans! Hey, if you want accountability, comment on this post with 'em, so the whole world can see 'em. Make 2010 the year you hit the big time. The year you decide to really get good. The year you decide to step into that spotlight, in whatever field you're in, and say "Hey New York City, MAKE SOME NOISE!"

So, this of course calls for some New Year's resolutions! If you don't have any, use some of mine!

- Get the Career rockin'!
- Get scary good as a musician!
- Become a great singer!
- Don't stop at making music - make a brand.
- Always preach the true music of your soul!
- Release a CD.
- Play some rockin' shows!
- Get a buncha new fans!

That's what I'm gonna try to do. If that's not enough, you could always add "install an pellet stove", "Don't eat spaghetti every single day", and "keep Camaro super duper shiny." (And thanks to some clients, I now have an awesome carwash kit! Thanks, Penny and Kelly!)

2010 is also gonna bring some cool stuff, musically and blog-ally speaking. My CD Northbound should be out (hopefully) by March - line up, ladies an' gents, and get your copy! I'll be blogging a lot more, and a podcast and a book are both being moved up from the back burners, to the middle burners...and before ya know it, to the front burners!

I'm gonna need some serious help networking on Facebook and Myspace (stay tuned for a FB fan page), so if you're interested in joining the team, let me know!

Blah blah blah, enough about me! I said at the beginning of The Doghouse that I wouldn't do this with a blog, so here's a few things...First off, rockers, please be smart, and don't be a boozin' and a cruisin'. Hand a friend the keys, or better yet, stick to the root beer. That's what I'll be doin'. We need ya around to make music, and buy CD's, and the like.

Secondly, here's a random poem that I randomly wrote just now for the New Year...

The Cold Slate

he wind creeps out of the woods
like a cat
who means business
and shakes hands with the chimes
that stand patiently to greet it
smacks the smoke around as it cringes out of the chimney
seeming to say "get back in line!"

Blasts in my face, and blows off the dust from a year spent
at a chalkboard
furiously scribbling and plotting and planning to get ahead
but never quite able to

it pushes the clouds across the sky
shooing the old year out
"thank you for your service, now go"
and sweeps the street from all the debris and fatigue of the season

and then it's gone, howling off to other rooftops
to remind people
that the slate has been cleared

And it turns around and scuttles a few leaves across the porch
as if to ask me
what do I plan to do with the time
ready, set, GO
here's your cold slate
feel it rob your hands of warmth and doubt
it's all clean and ready for drawing

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Write your own darn "Smoke on the Water!"

Save for the time she cussed out a bully on the CCD bus in 1974, my mom is notoriously clean spoken. I grew up wondering who Hector was, and what I could do to be hotter than him.

This will all make sense in a minute.

I came across a lesson in a guitar magazine recently that got me thinking, and really crystallized an idea that had been floating around for some time.

Some cat had re-harmonized Smoke on the Water to sound all jazzy. Sure, it was slick, but if ya ask me, it was taking pizza and freezing it into ice cream.

There's a skill that I've been chasing lately - the ability to write the epic rock riff. Or the catchy chord progression. Or anything really cool. All the stuff I've learned previously has given me the ability to express feelings through music, but the art of songwriting isn't popular with most rock guitarists. Look through a guitar magazine, and you'll be astounded at how we box ourselves in as sidemen at best, and wannabe emulators at worst. "Sound like Stevie!" "Reharmonize Giant Steps better than John Coltrane!" "Learn Eddie's tricks for blazing riffs!" But very rarely "Be the next guitar hero by sounding like yourself!"

So, instead of reinventing Smoke on the Water, I'd like to paraphrase my mother by saying....

Write your own darn Smoke on the Water!

Of course, this applies to anyone, not just musicians. We all can be epic, copied, and fantastic. We just gotta believe, and most importantly, we just gotta start.

Rock on!

- Josh

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank you, Thank you all!

Happy Thanksgiving, rockers!

As either a.) a true musician, b.) an egomaniac, or c.) both, I believe all the world's a stage.

And since it's this time of year, it's the perfect opportunity to say....

Thank you! Thank you all!

Internet random people...Thanks for reading the blog, and listening to the music – I appreciate it. Every comment and email is greatly appreciated (well, the good ones), and I'm proud to be part of your rock n' roll voyage.

Students – thanks for learning, laughing, and asking so many great questions! My goodness - I have a house built on great music and laughter. That's something to be very thankful for, and I am.

I've met some great musicians and songwriters this year, and I'm thankful for and to them.

And December 2nd will mark the year anniversary of my commitment (a house, folks.) Psycho ex-wives have nothing on threat of a foreclosure, so I've got that under control!

So, here's a neat little thing that I'd like to offer as a quasi-lesson today:

I started keeping a gratitude journal about a year ago, and it's a really neat thing to do. Each day, you write down what you're grateful for, and most importantly, you try to be consistent with your records. I'm not, but I'm working on it. It's a nice way to remember how much we've got, and to focus on that.

Try it! It's neat. You could document your progress on the guitar with it, too. As an instructor, I'm fortunate in the fact I get to see people achieve their own personal victories over musical obstacles. For some, it's understanding advanced theory, and others, simply sounding a string to join the Club Guitar Player. Each victory is worthy of gratitude and excitement! Write it down, sucka!

Happy Thanksgiving!

- Josh

Friday, November 20, 2009

Made of Scars

Two years.

Two years ago.

They found her.

Two years seems like a long time ago. It was a bright and sunny day like this. It's funny how the sun can burn your eyes sometimes.

I still can't wrap my head around it. Such a meek little girl - seems like she wouldn't have it in her. I guess nobody really ever saw her, and that's what did her in. I never knew her that well - but now I think of her often. A violin usually reminds me - 'cause she was such a fine violinist. I picked up a book of etudes the other day, and sighed. She would practice those for hours.

Oh, what have I learned since that day two years ago? Not much, sadly. It's strange how easy it is to forget in the hustle and bustle. At the same time, I've got another scar there, and those don't really heal - but they can teach. I'm listening to that Stone Sour song right now Made of Scars, and it seems like we all are.

And this one lets me see.

Holy smokes, we're all carrying around so much...Even the kids who come through the door to my studio - especially the kids, actually. I like to ask 'em if they're OK. I guess it's the least I can do.

And on this sunny fall day, when the wind blows emptily through the trees...I remember.
I feel that scar. And I get ready to ask people how they're really doing. Shouldn't we all?

And if you're not doing OK right now, pick up the phone:

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

It seems like the mind is like the sky - full of fleeting clouds and thoughts. Overcast and leaden skies are never forever, no matter how lasting they seem.

Enjoy the breeze today. Be glad you can feel it.

- Josh

PS. I wrote a song for her. It's called "Forgetful Land"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pause for effect


Cool newsflash - wanna make your lighting fast lines seem more lightning? Try puttin' a pause in 'em.

I had the privilege to address a room full of people last night, regarding a local environmental issue. I discovered something cool - when I stopped talking, the people responded. It was the pauses that let the "yeahs!" and agreement through.

Us guitarists are blessed and cursed by the fact that we never have to come up for air - that is, we can play all day, and the only thing limiting us is hand strength. We could learn a thing or two from saxophone players, vocalists, and anyone else limited by lung capacity.

Coming up for air is a great thing. It gives pause. It lets the applause through. And it makes the lightning seem all the more crackly.


- Josh

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Brand it, sucka!


What's UP? Hey man, I've got a bee in my bonnet...again.
FYI - the phrase "Bee in my bonnet" refers to a thought, idea, or concept flying into my hat, and buzzing angrily around, forcing me to align my actions correspondingly - usually by yelling.

So one of my clients got VIP tickets to see KISS in concert. Man, oh man, you should see the pictures he brought by! He's standing in a room backstage, flanked by the band in full makeup. It is AWESOME.

And then I got a piece of direct mailing today that really set me over the edge. It's for a gym. You open it up, and the first thing you read is:

"Yadda yadda fitness center is committed to conducting business in a manner that demands respect for everyone seeking our services. We strive to ensure that there is no offensive language and appropriate attire is worn. One of the major focal points of.......zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..."

When I woke up, that bee was buzzing around trying to escape the bonnet.

Boooooooooooring. (And besides, when's the last time THEY'VE tried to lift a heavy weight - Jesus gains a few middle names...well, at least some of the fellas add them...)

Contrast that with the photo of Evan with KISS. Instantly recognizable.
The other one - uber professional, and uber BoRiNg.

Does your band bio say "Chronic Bleeding Death Sky is well versed in a variety of styles, including, but not limited to, blues, rock, pop, oldies, top forty, jazz, ska, and is quite reasonably priced for your next party, bar mitzva, or campfire..."

OR -

"During a concert by Chronic Bleeding Death Sky, the chicken littles are right - the sky really IS falling."

Brand it.

Make it cool.

(And that's not just for band bios.)


- Josh
PS. Don't forge to check out my NEW SONG at!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tough Angels - AND NEW SINGLE!


I need your high-voltage help!

Meet Patty. Originally from Colorado, she has traveled across the world to help the women and children trapped in South Africa's rape epidemic. Her stories are of incredible pain, unbelievable sadness, and unimaginable grace.

Enter my Ma.

Check it: She gets to hear from a lot of cool people through her transformational art business. Well, a customer wrote one day, one thing led to another, and she found out about Patty's cause. So, coming from strong German farmer roots, mom kicked it into high gear with a ridiculously short deadline, my brothers joined in the fight, and... launched yesterday. Visit it.

Cut to: Mad scientist Josh, cooking up sonic stews in his...OK, I won't refer to myself in the third person. Is that the third person? There's so many of 'em in my head, I lose track.

ANYways, I wrote a song for the site. It's available for download under the "Non-Profit Art" section of the site. Yes, you gotta pay, but every dime goes to Patty. Actually, three of them go to PayPal, but you know how that goes.
Interestingly enough, in what started out as just a side project song turned into my best one yet! It's got vocals, cool chords, and a neat little intro hook. I really hope you'll download it, and help support those women and children. They could really use it.

I'm very excited about the cause, and about my song. Help the world, and help Patty help the world! If you've learned something cool from this blog, or my articles, or would just like to help, download that song, man!

You know how they always say that it's good to write from different perspectives? I wrote this song from that of a Zulu woman. That's sort of a reverse-Michael Jackson morph right there! Amazing...

Peace! And spread the word!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Through the lens of an artist


OK, new insight here, so listen up, class! I've been observing an interesting phenomenon in myself and other students of guitar that doesn't seem to be shared by other artistic disciplines:

We simply view ourselves as invalid, unworthy students of an unattainable goal.

Sounds like a sick religion.

Go back a few days - I took a vacation, and boy, it was nice. I recently bought myself a nice digital SLR camera (a Canon XSi for you fellow geeks), and I had lots of fun interpreting the world through the lens as I see it. I consider the pictures my art, and I had great fun being creative.

Why is it when I pick up a guitar, I'm crushed under the weight of validity, standards, and trying to live up to Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar sound?

And I'd venture to guess I'm not the only one. I think most of my students consider themselves students - unable to make any valid artistic statement. Not only that, but it might not have even crossed their minds.

Start thinking about it, rockers! Create the next wave! Don't worry about being unique - you already are. Just play.

Another thing about vacation...My brother Zakk burned a CD of a lot of System of a Down. Those guys are so weird, it's refreshing. I don't think they're standing in the shadow of Eddie Van Halen.

So try approaching the instrument just as you would a camera - you're not gonna pick up a cool SLR and say "Oh, I'd better just stick to shooting the flowers in the front yard..." Would you?

- Josh

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The 6th Annual Silly Hat Contest - Happy Birthday, SRV!


Well, it's almost over, but today's date marks the advent of one of the Rock Gods' gift to humankind - Happy Birthday, Stevie Ray Vaughan!

And, as some of you know by now, this kicks of the 6th Annual Silly Hat Contest! Wear your silliest topper for a chance to win!

Yes sir, Stevie sure liked his strange hats. Besides being my favorite guitar player, I also admire the guts it takes to wear something like this:

So, barely a month into at my teaching gig five years ago, I decided to honor the dude's birthday, and do something fun for my students. The First Annual Silly Hat Contest was born, and has been rockin' ever since! I've had people wearing light up hats (Zach!), custom made hats with mini-guitars hanging from it and pictures of SRV on it (Thomas!), a brain hat (Timmy!), and a super green cat in the hat hat...AND they had it on as the walked through Hot Licks Guitar Shop...Good job, Jake! (He was wondering why people were looking at him. They must have sensed his greatness as a future rock star.)

And the Silly Hat Contest is not just for students anymore! Here's the rules:

During the month of October, wear your silliest topper for a chance to win. Winners will be announced at the Monster Jam! Wear it in to a lesson, or if you can't make it, send a photo.

Doghouse readers -send a picture in! Bonus points to: a.) any student who wears the hat through the parking lot, up the stairs, and for the whole lesson, b.) any reader or student who takes the picture of themselves wearing the hat near a busy intersection or anywhere there's lots of people, c.) if anyone walks around playing "Willie The Wimp" while wearing their silly hat.

Rock ON!

And, of course, Happy Birthday, Stevie.

- Josh

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Keep an Ear on the Road


You know I'm always railing on and on about the importance of ear training...It's like chefs knowing what's in the soup by tasting it. "I say, Pierre, this must be rosemary." That's an important skill to have!

Lately, some of my clients have been knockin' my socks off with their superior command of the skill of listening. I've got one dude who's just rockin' away figuring out Avenged Sevenfold songs and even some classical stuff by ear.

However much we'd all like to practice, or for that matter, know we should, time is at a premium. Driving along today, I invented a new way to practice ear training. It's bound to be world famous! Maybe.

I was rumblin' along in the Camaro, and...I heard the tires meeting the street. Haha, not the usual muscle car sounds of "screeeeeeeeeee vrooooooom!", but just 'em rolling along at 4o miles per hour, saying "Hello, Street, my name is Michelin."

I've always been a paranoid mechanic, and have listened incessantly to random engine noises..."Dude - think that's the engine pinging?"

Well - I thought - what a great way to practice both ear training, and awareness. Music is really about both. The more aware one is, the better the results.

So - listen to your car, and learn all the sounds! Not only is it good practice, it's good mechanics. And the cool thing is - the more you listen, the more you hear. Quick story for y'all (unfortunately, my student isn't showing up, so I'm rambling...)

A student gave me a cool alarm clock once...It was a drumset, and it would play a swing/big band song that went "Come on, wake up, daaa daaa da da da da daaaa da da, da da da da...." One morning, I was just so tired, and I dozed for a long time just listening to the darn thing. After about twenty minutes, through a groggy alpha state, I said to myself...."Hey man, there's a xlyphone part in there!" And so there was.

See! The more you listen, the more you hear.

But do get up on time.

- Josh

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Song, yo!

Hey hey!

What's UP, rockers? It's been a little while. I've been holed up in my studio, writing songs and watching The Daily Show. Jon Stewart is a funny, funny man.

Anyways, I recorded an instrumental to submit to The Mid-Atlantic Songwriting Contest. Wish me luck! As some of you know, I took a trip north recently. I bought myself a ticket to the train, and boy, am I glad I did. It was so much fun! I've always loved trains, so it was a great opportunity to do some railroad watching, and get nifty ideas for songs. I've got one in the works about a laundromat I saw in Jersey. Seriously. But back to this instrumental...The intention is for it to sound like a train - dig the bass line kinda throbbing along, and the lead guitar hook sorta sounds like a train horn.

So, check out the new tune called Northbound. It's on my myspace. Tell your friends, add the song to your profile, and turn it up!

The lesson today comes from one of my students. He was sharing his aggravation about how one of his soccer teammates refuses to pass the ball once he gets it. The story reminded me of how musicians do the same thing - once they get the spotlight, or a cool riff, they don't want to give it up. If they don't have it in the first place, then they'll try to make it up. I'll point a finger at BASS PLAYERS putting too much slap bass in everything, guitarists trying to play lead between ever stinkin' vocal phrase, and well.......the list goes on! Step back, evaluate the situation, and if need be - pass the torch.

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

5 Years!


It's been a little crazy over here, hence my silence. I just got back from NYC, and boy oh boy, I've got some catchin' up to do!

First off!

Today, besides being the start of World War II, marks the Five-Year Anniversary of being a guitar teacher. Whew, time sure flies! I just ran some rough calculations on my iPhone, and according to those complex equations I've run, I've taught over 7,000 lessons. That's a lotta rock 'n roll! Thanks to everyone who's taken lessons over the years! It's been fun. I really appreciate it, and I've learned so much. Here's to the next 7,000 lessons!

Second off!

Tickets for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra go on sale TOMORROW, September 2nd. You don't want to miss these guys 'n gals. Buy some tickets!

Third off! Two wonderful musicians I have the privledge of knowing are going to be putting on a fablous outdoor concert. Be there! Here's the info:

Saturday, 9/12/09, 8 PM
Ferguson Amphitheater, Hard Bargain Farm, Accokeek, MD.
Adults--$12; Members/Students--$10; Kids under twelve--$5

Grace Griffith, multi-Wammie Award winner, and singer/songwriter Lynn
Hollyfield share the stage for an evening of beautiful music. Grace is a critically acclaimed
interpreter of songs and long a favorite of DC area folk and celtic music fans. She has 3 solo albums and two CDs with her former trio "Connemara" on the Blix Street Records label,

and recently was featured on Jennifer Cutting's "Ocean" recording project.
Lynn Hollyfield's original songs have well-crafted melodies, stand-alone lyrics and striking emotional depth. In addition to being a gifted singer and songwriter,
Lynn is also quite accomplished on guitar. She has two CD's with her duo "Hollyfield & Spruill"
and is currently finishing up work on her first solo recording.
This will be an evening of sparkling settings of contemporary songs and traditional ballads. Together, Grace and Lynn promise an evening of vocal delights with polished harmonies, rhythm and fun. The pair will be joined by Jimmy Brink, percussionist. and

These ladies are great! I was helping out with the sound system while they were playing one time, and their version of Summertime was so good, I forgot to mix! I just listened. Playing a mix of celtic-tinged folk, they're an interesting contrast to the high voltage music I usually listen to. (I've got System of a Down playing right now....."Pushing little children, with their fully automatics!")

And the venue is really cool, too. It really is a concert in the woods. Check it out!

Forth off:

I've got some new random weird videos: My interviews of things that can't talk back.

Rock on!

- Josh

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Last Sorcerers


What is UP, good people?

Hey man, for starters, dig the race war. Anyone else notice it?

I was just talking to an aquantance who's immersed in politics, and I mentioned how I've been hearing openly racist remarks lately. She articulated the idea of how, given the current events, folks are not reacting to just policy lately, but the changing of the status quo. I feel like I'm in baseball right after Jackie Robinson started playing, and my kids are going to look back on my generation with disgust, aversion, and disbelief.

I've seen figures that hate crimes are up against Latinos, have heard anti-black sentiment, been around so much flippant anti-gay remarks that it's staggering, and I've even felt like my own paleness has been resented.

So come on, people! What's all this about? Didn't we leave this behind? I was talking to a black client of mine who grew up in Jim Crow Virginia, and I asked him "have you noticed that racism is really getting bad lately?" His respose was a surprised "Getting? It's never gone away!"

This really, really floored me.

I've been discussing, ruminating, and talking some more. And I've got an idea.

Music is transcendent not only of different types of language, but of language itself. It's understood without words, and even deaf people dance to the vibrations. (Next time you're in DC, check out the Galludet University dance company.)

In a way, we're sort of magicians, sorcerers, if you will. We cast spells that all understand. Let's try to spin some understanding.

We can start by understanding, or at least learning.

Dig - the hispanic population is the fastest growing minority in the United States. This means two things for me. 1.) it really reminds me that I should learn Spanish! 2.) I can't wait to learn about Latin music. Talk about some complex grooves! It's mind-shattering stuff. I hear the fiery dance of a hard-working, so-non-white culture at play.

When I listen to delta blues, I hear a person working in the sun all day for almost no money, descended from people who didn't get paid at all. That gives me a small glimpse into the history of Black America.

Bach makes my abs feel tight in sympathy for the ladies in the classical era. Corsets must have hurt. It's probably also the only music that vaguely moves me to go to church. Imagine that.

The bossa nova floats through the air, and I can picture exotic Brazillian jazz clubs where the flowers are all unfamiliar and the girls aren't from Charles County. How nice.

And then I get ready to sail off to war and kick some butt while I'm listening to "Poser Viking Metal." It's cold outside at the viking port!

So, if I can hear and understand this, and differences are resolved by understanding, and music creates understanding, then...

Cast that spell, rockers! And learn, learn, learn. And don't be hatin'.



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The fine line between genius and insanity

Is probably in the eye of the beholder.

The more time we spend avoiding that line, analyzing that line, and diagramming that line, and the less we spend blurring it -

The safer and more hopeless our art will become.

And security seems to be such a curse.

Don't be cursed, bro!

- Josh

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Breaking up


I hope you guys have been rockin' an' shockin', and generally showing folks how cool musicians are.

I've been reading a few books on songwriting and the music industry. One of those, Six Steps to Songwriting Success by Jason Blume, has given me a wayyyyy cool idea.

Mr. B states the following (paraphrased by me):

Melody is vital.

The first melody that you invent might sound blah.

Rewrite it.

By doing this: Say your line is: A B C D E F (The A minor scale, played for six notes.) Notice how it's evenly spaced.

Next, let other notes ring out longer. In this example, 'cause the blog formatting is getting the best of me, we would let the note A ring out, and the rest would be played normally. In the second example, B would ring out, or have the greatest duration, and the rest would be played normally:







D E F-




Try it! It's cool!

OK, so how can we use this for the ultimate goal (word domination?) Like so: We all get stuck in the same boring patterns to shred and kick butt. Try breaking up your typical lines by the method outlined above.


- Josh

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Help! Input needed


I need your help. I'm stumped.

I'm trying to learn to sequence drums, and frankly, it's not going so well. Here's the situation.

I've got Cubase 5 (awesome!), Superior Drummer 2.0, and the Korg padKONTROL midi controller.

I'm having trouble sequencing beats. I can play 'em live on the padKONTROL, but boy, that's a horrible off beat sound. (My fault, not the machine's.) Sequencing in Cubase is incredibly cumbersome.

I can sequence cool beats in Hydrogen, but can't import the midi file properly into Cubase. The Hydrogen sounds are fine for jamming, but just don't cut it compared to Superior Drummer.

SO - does anyone have a favorite sequencer/program? I'm looking for something cheap or free. I don't care about the sounds, I just need to be able to program a song easily to import.


Monday, July 20, 2009

The Water

"Life is a waterfall, we drink from the river, then we turn around and put up the walls."
-System of a Down


What's up? I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a buddy. It allowed me to articulate a thought that had been formulating for a while. I hope you can make use of it!

Check it out:

Technique, theory, gear, ear training, and all other wonderful aspects of our field are but means of expressing a concept - be it love, hate, vengeance, or Barney the Purple Dinosaur...

Without that concept to express, all of these tools become empty, soul-less, and turn our art into a craft.

It's as if we build a mega-waterworks. We have gates, locks, valves, waterwheels, meters, and all of it costs a hefty chunk o' change.

So, we build this wonderful apparatus, and are stunned when the waterwheel sits idle.

Why won't it go?

There's no water. "Ain't got no soul, baby!"

The plumbing we've constructed (technique and theory) have allowed the water to do tremendous things - IF there's water.

Puzzled, we decided to study chemistry and hydrodynamics. (I'm hoping that's a field, 'cause I just made that up.) We learn the composition of water, how it flows, what makes it tick.

But this still gets us only to the edge, and not over. We know where the water should be, but it's not there.

We can study the creative process, analyze it to death, buy boutique creativity cabinets, and yet - still be stuck.

That moment of creation - something from nothing - is one of the most magical aspects of any artistic endeavor. And it's certainly not limited to the arts! Any great speaker, mechanic, or inventor knows this. Components assemble themselves into roaring engines, and words leap off the page into history-changing orations.

So try sitting quietly, really feel something, and then really express it. You can always get that hydro-meter NOS vintage tweed super duper aqua mod waterwheel later.

Just for now, try for some soul.

- Josh

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Post #201


Welcome to Post #201! What is it? A VFW?


Wow, I just looked. The Doghouse is 200 posts strong as of this writing! Thanks for reading.
It confirms popular suspicion - I talk a lot.

So, I feel extra-compelled to say something of substance today. Something that is useful, pertinent, and profound.

I got to entertain the cub scouts! That was pretty fun. I even signed a few autographs. I drove by their camp today to drop off some business cards, and one of 'em said "hey, that's the rockstar!"

OK, all joking aside, here's a cool lesson:

I'm a subscriber to EQ magazine. Nope, it's not a fashion for horses (Equine Quarterly.) It's a recording magazine, and it's pretty cool. They're always hollering about mic placement.

The principle is this - not only does it matter what mic you use to record, it matters where it is in the room in relation to the amp. Dead center in front of the speaker cone, touching the grille cloth is the norm. But you can get "room" in the sound by putting it a few feet back, tone down the highs by placing it off-axis of the speaker, add sparkle by putting it in a bucket in the back of a '57 pickup, etc etc. (Just kidding about the last one, but that being said, doing crazy stuff will yield nifty sounds.)

One thing that guitarists often fail to realize is that this applies to live playing as well. For those of us who either a.) aren't blessed to have a ten-foot tall wall of amps, or b.) are snobbish like me, and spend way too much on vintage sounding combos, the amp is usually trying to chew our ankles off.

The amp's on the floor, good people.

Physics will tell us that sound waves will refract (bend) around objects smaller than the wavelength. This can explain why the bass guitar, with it's very long wavelength of the low frequency, will find it's way everywhere in the room. But the guitar, with a higher frequency, has a tendency to be easily blocked.

This, in turn, creates a "beaming" effect from our amps. If you're right in front of it, you'll have to locate your ears - they'll be blasted off. But stand up, and you'll just hear a dull roar.

For starters, get that amp off the ground. If you're playing a gig with a combo amp, try putting it on a chair. Better yet, get an amp stand that tilts the unit back. You'll be able to hear things way better, and so will the crowd.

My good buddy and recording guru Mike has told me many times to listen directly in front of the speaker to hear your tone. Every time I record, I'm taken aback by the harshness of the sound. While it's in part the mics and preamps I'm using, it's also that I'm used to listening from a different perspective. So listen to in at the source!

If the opposite is the problem, and management isn't happy with the earsplitting highs that your JCM six billion mega stack is throwing off - turn the amp so it's facing the wall.

If your bass cab in your home studio is lacking in oomph, put the sucker in the corner. Corners amplify low frequencies, and can be a real headache for acoustic engineers. But for us fellas looking to make cheap speakers sound kickin', give it a shot!

The point is, folks, is experiment, and see what new sounds ya get. I guess you could almost say it's like the ancient practice of Feng Shui - The Chinese Art of Placement. (Sorta like a cosmic interior design - put the picture of Hendrix over the door to ensure the spirit of Rock is always welcome.)

Rock on!

- Josh

Monday, July 6, 2009

Andrea Stolpe is DA MAN!

Well, metaphorically speaking, that is.

Rockers! I hope y'all had a fantastic Fourth of July! For readers not in America, this is a holiday celebrating the independence from British rule. We stick it to the man each year with a patriotic display of Chinese-Made fireworks. These fireworks are music to China's ears, as it's the sound of exploding debt exploding a bit more.

The 5th of July, much less widely celebrated, marks the anniversary of the first draft. I believe there was some grumbling, and the precursor of the modern yo-yo was walked across the tea crates floating in the Boston harbor. Or something like that.

But anyways, I hope it was good for ya, and you got some time to catch up on some reading!

You NEED to Check out Andrea Stolpe's book Popular Lyric Writing - 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling. It rocks!

I've been reading it, and it's helping my songwriting already - and I'm not even done with the book! "Sure, Josh!" you may say..."Finish the book, bro, and then tell us!" Dude, when I'm done reading this worthy tome, I'm gonna be at the top of the charts, and I will have long forgotten about...anyway, I'm just kind of excited about it.

She outlines a great way to get ideas - it's called Destination Writing where you spill out yo' guts on paper (or screen), and then go back to rearrange those thoughts into a song.

Here's something I jotted down today.

Theme: Sunday evening

With a sigh, I signal for 210 south, and reluctantly step on the gas. Echoes of laughter mingle with the muffled roar of the exhaust, and are whisked away to the side of the highway, where they probably still linger, waif-like. I wonder if the ghosts of yesterdays all know each other. If they had a ghost party, I could almost picture it...Brightly dressed sprites of the fall excursions chatting effervescently with the tall spirits in Christmas sweaters, while quite a few dreary wallflowers lurk in the dismal shadows of unmet challenge.

Huh...I am a poetic fool of a guy. Now I gotta make a song out of this! (There's more to this, too.)

Rock on! And try this cool way of writing - you'll like it! And be sure to check out Andrea's website!

- Josh

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Application of Knowledge


What up, bros! (And sisters!)

Here's a riddle for ya:

What renders a Josh wordless, viewless, and makes him sit down for a while?

Trying to write a song!

It's absurd. Here I sit, in my teaching studio, surrounded by a bunch of gear, teaching forty-odd people a week. I can shred. I play gigs. I'll expound on tritone substitution, or the history behind Stevie Ray Vaughan's music.

But write a song that's good? Huh!

Ever since embarking on my solo career, I've been schooled again and again at how much there is to learn. But that's not a bad thing.

Singing - Recording - Microphones - Software - Drum machines - and now, grammar and rhyme schemes.

Did not see that coming. So much to learn. Dangerously easy to lose sight of the goal - application.

The point of all this, folks, is this:

Regardless of your art or craft, spend a little time working on the application of your knowledge.

For musicians, I would enthusiastically say to write songs, in addition to practicing your sweep picking and razzle dazzle arpeggios.

Finishing is the key word here. Finish a song.

How 'bout you poets and potters out there? Well, while I'm a borderline poet with lyrics, and will write a poem once in a great while, I'm not very familiar with the artform. But let's speak hypothetically for a minute...Maybe you're a reclusive writer, and have never polished one of your poems to the perfection that you feel it's worth of. Perhaps writing a poem that you'd share at an open mic would be a fantastic start. Finish it!

Potters! I have no clue. I honestly don't. But I love pottery!

Painters - stop copying the masters for a minute, and create your own painting. To paraphrase J-Dog, "The kingdom of artistic validity is now."

I think it's a blessing and a curse that musicians spend so much time practicing. But remember, without applications, we just become practitioners.

Rock on!
- Josh

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Big Tony


Boy oh boy, I'd say I'm the luckiest guy in the world. However, one of my clients has already claimed that distinction, so I'll settle for second.

Does anyone remember the blog I wrote called Paint the White House Black ?
I featured a video of a band called Trouble Funk - a band who pioneered the DC music phenomenon called Go Go - and are still going strong today!

I'm a fan of these guys. They're pretty darn cool!

So, I got a new client the other day. She's pretty cool. I asked her what kinda music she wanted to learn. "Rock and Funk." I went on a ramble about how I love those two types of music, and I've played in a go go band, yadda yadda yadda.

She said "Oh, you like Trouble Funk?" YeAh, I said. "My Dad's the bass player for 'em. You know, Big Tony!"

I almost fell off my chair. She got him on the phone for me. "Hi, err...Tony!" I said.

She told me she would ask him by.

So he stopped by my studio the other day, and tried out a bass. We jammed on "Don't Touch That Stereo." It made my day.

It was way cool! Thanks, Amoni and Tony! (Geeze, I'm sorry I cut you out of the picture, Amoni!)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Making of an EP - Breakfast or Else..!

Hey hey!

OK, so what's the deal with the EP I'm supposed to be recording? Namely, where is it? Well, it's still floating around in the air somewhere. I'm workin' on the writing.

But yesterday, I ran out of oatmeal. So, I went to the store. It struck me that I'm acting like a classic Urban, and dragging my feet wayyy too much. I also decided that the music I'm writing doesn't fit my personality. This first came to my attention when I told a client that the music I write is mellow. He just laughed in my face. That highlighted the disconnect between Diamond-Dave people interactions and Debbie Downer lyrics.

And I was still out breakfast.

So I got my oatmeal (gotta have that stuff), and decided to write something fun. The first thought was about how people wait their lives away.

"Wait a second!" I said to myself. "THAT'S not fun!"

So I wrote about how I need my breakfast, or I go bonkers. It's still presented in a semi-serious acoustic blues format, but it's partly a joke, too. It's mainly a joke because I recorded it in four takes, and with one mic. I usually do ten million takes, and spend days getting my sound. But hey man, I gotta start posting songs sometime!

I'm using an old Harmony acoustic guitar that a buddy just gave me. It's falling apart, and the strings are about three feet above the fretboard. But it's great for slide guitar!

Check it out! Listen to "Breakfast or Else" on my myspace page.

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My first stadium gig


Wow oh wow! What a weekend! Friday I played my first stadium gig. Saturday I weedwhacked using a premium Husqvarna weed eater that my brothers gave me. Sunday I had the first of many ribbon cutting ceremonies on a piece of property I bought. (Commonly known as a house.)

But the stadium! OK, OK, I wasn't headlining or anything. It wasn't even a rock show. But it was for a darn good cause. I got to play two songs for a Relay for Life event in a minor league ball park. (Technically professional league.) It was sooo much fun. There were an estimated two to three thousand people there, most of 'em walkin' around celebrating their survival. And so was I.

Nonetheless, I DID get to step up to the mic, say "What's up, Waldorf?! Are you ready to ROCK?!" And congratulate 'em on a job well done.

Lesson learned. It's way more fun to play in front of a stadium than a dive bar. So keep on practicing, good people! It's highly worth it. And I was basically background music. It was still a blast! I can't wait to headline a show! You know - the chanting of "Josh Josh Josh Josh!"
I had so much fun. Thanks to Ashley and Amy for making it possible! AND of course to Jason and Charlie, two dedicated clients doubling as roadies!

Here's a picture from my soundcheck:

Rock ON!

- Josh

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

No room for that

Readers! Rockers! Followers!

Hey, have you been over to my twitter page, and added me to your list?

I'm gonna let my imagination get the best of me. Don't miss it!

And speaking of letting imaginations get the best of you...That brings us to today's topic: Victims. Not ones of war, fraud, or violence.

Ones of their own making. Ones who embrace weakness as a way of life. I come from a line of 'em. My family reunion should be a refugee camp, there's so many sorry bleeding heart weaklings in it. "Oh, I'm hurt." Baloney.

And that has really put a bee in my bonnet. The world is filled with musicians, and people, who refuse to take responsibility for their circumstances. And today, I put my foot down, and refuse to continue that legacy.

Regardless of who's fault it is that you don't have a record deal - find a way to get one!

No matter if you can't sing - learn! (Talkin' to myself, there.)

Playing too slow? is open 24/7

We're all here for you, man. But you gotta be here, too.

So - quit waffling! Make it happen!

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, June 2, 2009



I've finally cracked - I'm on Twitter.

"And he said, I am the Josh, and I am crazy. Follow me."

AND - let's be friends on facebook and myspace while we're at it!

Josh Urban on facebook, and

See ya there!


Monday, June 1, 2009

The Question of the Day!


Greetings. I hope you had a great weekend. I did. I went to Susquehanna State Park. (I cannot believe I spelled that right.)

I saw a river, some woods, some friends, and a working mill. You know, with the big ol' waterwheel and grindstone. It was COOL!

So, this leads us to the question of the day. How do you capture a mill in song? That is, not in country or bluegrass ballads about the mill.

My two awesome brothers and very cool mother are photographers. Notice "mother" is singular, not plural, although I'm not close minded when it comes to that. Ha ha!

They can capture the mill through a lens and a cmos chip. But what about me? Will I ever be able to write a hit song about how cool the mill was? Or will I be stuck in the land of progressive instrumentals or country tales?

Help a mill brotha out!

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don't wanna yo yo

Hey hey HEY!

What's up, rockers?

Man, I haven't practiced in a long time. Sure, I teach all day, and I've been writing like crazy...But I haven't sat down lately and seriously practiced.

I picked it up again yesterday. I got the new Guitar Player and decided to take a look at the lessons. Geeze, I was so incredibly bored.

It seems to me that everyone is trying to enter a giant yo-yo competition. They razzle and they dazzle...and at the end of the day - it's tricks, and it's stupid....Or at least it comes off to me like that.

So I've been pondering and pondering about artistic validity, my mark on the musical world, and creating a unique voice.

Know what I've come up with? I'm throwing it all out the window, and just start talking with music. I'm gonna cook up some sounds that sound cool, and get my point across. If it's cliche, or passe, deal with it, invisible critics in my head!

I ain't workin' in Maggie's yo yo shop no more!

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Making of an EP - 5/12 update


Cubase 5 ROCKS! And I still don't even know how to use it.

OK, here's the latest with the recording...

First off: Would you believe it, but I've got EIGHT THOUSAND plays on my myspace songs?
I'm super excited! If you wanna make my day, add the songs to your profile, and tell me that ya did.

Second off: I've got Cubase 5 installed, and am having big fun with the MIDI! I can hook up my guitar through my roland guitar synth, plug THAT into the Korg PadKontrol, and run THAT into Cubase. Man, I'm unstoppable!

Third off: The hunt for a band name continues. I've ditched an offensive one. I think I'm gonna go with Anti Poser Task Force. What do ya think? I figure I can create a small army, complete with slogans and stickers. We will rid the world of posers. Our official uniform will be pretentious turkey suits.

Fourth off: I'm very close to launching a podcast. J-Dog Radio - The Official Voice of Josh Urban. Stay tuned. Hahaha!

I am a lucky, lucky little boy, and I'm very glad to be a musician! I'm gonna try to get a new song up by next Monday, so you can start holding your breath.

Rock on!

- Josh

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wisdom from a shirt

I was standing in line at Chipotle the other day to get a veggie burrito.......Yummm....And the workers all have shirts with sayings on 'em.

One saying just jumped out at me like "THAT'S IT!"

It said: "Good is in the details."

And indeed it is. I remember being able to play a lot of songs, but when I started getting good was when I got the details right.

Try it yourself. Get that tone, timing, and all those other details perfect.

That's where good is.

Rock on!
- Josh

Save Up to $1000 at

Monday, May 4, 2009

Crazy poet

There was Crazy Horse...(Which begs the question - was there ever a horse named "Crazy Man?")

There was Crazy Eddie...

Now, there's Crazy Poet.

Yes, yes, rockers, you guessed it. ME!

WOW, to borrow from the Donald Rumsfieldian school of thought, I'm learning a lot about the unknown unknowns.

Back in the easy days when I was just a guitar player, all I had to worry about was melting faces off with mind-blowing technique.

BUT - Now I'm a solo artist. I'm learning to sing. I'm writing songs. I'm learning how to record, and the gear and acoustics that go with it. (Cubase 5 is due in by the end of the week!)

The latest? Writing lyrics.

I never gave this much thought, as the entire world is inspiration. But being good at anything is a skill, and writing lyrics is no exception.

I suggest that you start right away! Look around, and see what you see. Man, I've been running into some great material for ideas. The paper is a great place to start. I saw an obituary/article about a mom who was tragically killed in an auto accident, and she was remembered like so - she giggled when she was nervous, wanted to win when she gambled, wanted to visit Jamaica, and wanted to rent her own apartment someday. Such a life, snuffed out. And all these lives walking all around, unseen.

Huh. I haven't quite gotten it into words yet, but I will - I think it might honor this lady, and make us really think.

I was scribbling lyrics when I was in line getting a burrito today. It's fun being a crazy poet! For poet I am, now in addition to guitarist, songwriter, singer, producer, engineer, and bass player.

Oh yeah - let's not forget "Crazy."

Give that lyric writing a shot!

Rock on!


Sunday, May 3, 2009

An letter from a 15 year old Josh


Whew, I'm cleaning house today. Amazing how much stuff there is to find! Going through my papers today, I happened across a paper filled with mediocre cursive writing. Upon closer examination, I saw it was my own. It was a letter, never sent, intended for the local library. Here's what it said:

Dear Sir/Madam,

As a regular visitor to your library, I have noticed that your book and audio collection seem to have a wide variation. However, your hard rock/heavy metal music selection seems severely lacking. (something, hard to read) would greatly appreciate positive actions towards a heavy metal selection! I know that I am not alone in this feeling. I ask you to consider obtaining new materials for the hard rock fans that would have missed out on the hard rock classics. Everybody should be able to hear Megadeth's (yes - that's how you spell it)) Rust in Peace or Van Halen's Atomic Punk. Thanks for your time and consideration!

Josh Urban

Wow, I was full of hot air way back then, too. BUT - I obviously hadn't discovered! Query - Hard Rock.

Always an advocate, though! Stupid library - no Megadeth.

Gotta go clean!

Rock on!

- Josh

Saturday, May 2, 2009

EP update - fancy dancy drummers

Wow - Superior Drummer rocks.

So I'm sitting here, tired from yard work. I'm cleaning 'cause some relatives are coming over. "Let's fool around with the drum program." Having excessive solitude is a great thing, but it can lead to talking to yourself, singing Gene Kelly songs while picking up rocks off the lawn in the rain, etc.

I just learned something important - when writing parts, make 'em SIMPLE, and then layer 'em. I just created a razzle dazzle drum part that, if a real drummer played...I'd tell her to leave.

Simple layers make the super duper cake.

Hmmm....I'll see what I can do.

Rock on!

- Josh

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The making of an EP - Part 1

Heyyyy Rockers!

Geeze Louise, how has everyone been? It's been awfully quiet over here, 'cause I've been BUSY.

Busy doing what?

I'm finally making a real cd! I feel that I've finally become an artist, and I'm warming rapidly to the idea. I'm SO EXCITED about this project, and I'd love to take y'all into the studio, at least via blog, and have you join in.

It's gonna be a wild one. I'd be honored to have y'all right there for the journey, from the songwriting, the equipment choices, and the whole creative process. Then, when it finally drops, and goes multi-platinum (errr.....), you'll know it like an old friend.

The Goal

To make a great record - on my own.

I'm not dealing with any other musicians, and while I'll probably get help mastering the audio, I plan on recording the entire project in my humble little home studio.

It's gotta rock! I wanna be able to hand to people, and say "check THIS."

It's gonna be meaningful - no stupid love songs.

It's gotta be doable live as a solo act - but I CAN use a laptop!

Whew, I feel like David Copperfield telling you how I'm gonna make a building vanish. Cool!

Pull up a chair, and get some ideas for your own project!

10:26 pm - The blogging begins - Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

I'm sitting in my studio, blogging. I need to be songwriting. Songwriting is a skill all of it's own. It's not learned by sweep picking. D*arn.

I'm installing Superior Drummer 2.0 by Toontracks. It's the cure for drummers. Woot!

(It's a drum sampling program, and I'm gonna program some beats those suckers can only dream of playing! HA!)

I'm going to write a song for people with cancer now. Just the lyrics part, 'cause the computer is bogging down with the drum program install. My Aunt's got cancer pretty bad. A buddy has decided he needs to get chemo. The sunlight illuminated the incredible sadness in his face. The people in the hall today waiting to talk to a counselor looked pretty darn sad. The little girl sat on the chair sniffling. There's blues everywhere, and the blues are the best healer I know. So I guess it'll be a blues song.

(And I need to grab a tofu sandwich for dinner.)

Rock on!

- Josh

Wednesday, April 15, 2009



I'm between lessons again, waiting for a bowl of ramen to finish, and darn FedEx to bring me some gear. I'm chomping at the bit for this stuff!

So, I bring you the latest insight of the week. I was showing one of my clients my patented wicked cool five step solo-in-a-box lesson. (See "A Beginner's Guide to Soloing.")

In a nutshell, how I usually get students to turn a scale into music is:

1. Play the scale (usually A minor Pentatonic), while I play chords.

2. Play the scale, but vary the duration/value of the notes. Play some fast, play some slow.

3. Repeat some notes several times in a row.

4. Mix up the order.

5. Add "croutons" to the sonic salad - bends, pull offs, etc.

Bam! Music! And be sure to check out the article for a more detailed perspective.

But anyway, interestingly enough, step two proves to be the hardest for people to get expression into.

Nobody uses enough space. They play notes fast, but are unable, or unwilling, to play them slow.

Check it out - In my opinion, contrast is a vital part of improvisation. We all have a speed limit as to how fast we can play. Yngwie's is a bit higher than mine, but hey, he's got one, too. So, if one constantly plays at the speed limit of their particular ability, well, it will sound dull. To quote a client - "If you do something special all the time, then it's not special any more." (Thanks, Brian! A great thought!)

If you want to soup up your soloing, and let's face it, who doesn't, try adding contrast. And add contrast with space.

Really let a note ring. Let it sing! It takes a lotta guts to sustain a note for two measures or so. But it can be very effective. It'll give the music room to breathe, and make the blazing runs all the more incindentary.

Just as a flashlight in your eyes bursting suddenly out of the darkness seems brighter than staring at the sun on a hot summer's day, contrast sets us up beautifully.


And rock on!

- Josh

PS. My own MOTHER has 11 followers on her blog, and I only have 8. And one of 'em is her. Follow my blog, PLEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSEEEEEE! :)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Just Fo' Fun


No music today, just some comedy for ya. Actually, the greatest action story ever told!

Hasta La Vista!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A two minute lesson

I've got a student coming in in two minutes, so, here's a long winded blog REALLYFAST!

I photoshopped myself yesterday as Dr. Phil. Not because I'm a fan, but because it was mustache Monday on Facebook with my buddies. My mom started this. It's a long story. (But if you're not my friend on Facebook, you should be!)

Regardless, I went looking for Dr. Phil quotes...And I'm not even sure if this is his, but I like it:

You'll never get what you don't ask for.

Rock on!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yes! Follow on, loyal followers!

I've got seven of you guys an' gals so far! Rockin'!

Now, for the blog...Geeze, I got kinda down today. It was overcast, rainy, and I was lethargic and depressed. Believe it or not...!

SO, I wrote a song! It made me feel better. Sorta. But that doesn't matter! At least I got a song out of it!

Check it out on my myspace. It's called "One of Those Days." (The sound quality is err...not quite up to my standards, but I can't figure out why. Myspace seems to have overcompressed the thing. Let me know if you've got any ideas.)

So, here's what I suggest to you rockers. 1. Write more songs. 2. When you're sad, happy, or ticked off, or whatever...Write a song, or play something heartfelt. It can even be one note. Really put your soul into it.

Give it a shot! Now.

Remember, if you never write songs, you'll always be playing somebody else's thoughts.

Rock on!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alex says


Wow, things have been crazy! I was very close to being an Elvis impersonator. I just got a palm tree plant thingamajig. I am planting a forsythia hedge in the yard. And I got some great advice from a student named Alex.

So, the lady I rent my studio space from is pretty cool. She got me into a fashion show with 400 women and 8 guys. Great odds, right? Unfortunately, I found out that it was a fashion show for older women. And - it was a fashion show. I will never date a model, because I can't even pretend to be supportive and sit through her show.

So I'm sitting at the table watching this thing, and the commentators are going on and ON and ON about clothes. I felt like Ted Fergeson, Bud Light Daredevil. Except I don't drink, and I didn't have a cool helmet.

So, when there's nothing else to do, learn.

To me, these ladies were walking around in very expensive average looking clothes. I wouldn't have looked twice at these duds in Target. Of course, I don't shop for ladies clothes. But you know what I mean!

Did you know there's a sort of music theory with clothes? Some lines are supposed to make the wearer look thinner (it's placebo), "while the embroidered cuffs add a hint of Aussie sensibility to the outfit." "Riiiiiiiiiiiight." as the guy below would say...

And then it hit me: If this is theory for women, and they just look like some random person walking around in a slightly funny getup, well...

Maybe that's what us musicians sound like with our hip chord voicings or blazing scales, to an average listener. Maybe we're wayyyyyyyy over thinking it.

Of course, this is not to say that you shouldn't learn theory, rip through scales, and really know your stuff. You need to know it! But don't assume that everyone will be in awe of your embroidered cuffs...err, inversion of a Bb7(b9) chord. Use your knowledge to rock, not to express scales.

And all of this is summed up by my client, Alex. He wrote something cool on the dry erase board in my teaching studio. Substitute "Rock" for "cook", and you'll get the idea.

It says: "Instructions for Cooking: Cook."

Rock on!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Crunchless Abs? Gimme a break!

Some fool posted some story about how you can get as strong as Bruce Lee without the gym.


Rockers! I am on a rant! I've been sick and dehydrated lately, but now I'm back with a vengeance...! I've had too much Gatorade. I've had too much rest. So watch out!

OK - so I've had a series of short cuts drift across my desk that have got that bee, who has tenure in my Yankee's cap, a-buzzzin' again.

First - America's obsession with great abs, but the unwillingness to do crunches. Automatic frustration! Crunches are not that bad, either. Have you tried one lately? Let's apply the crunch logic to the guitar. I think crunches are like scales - not exactly fun, but they get you ripped (or on the guitar, ripping.)

I keep seeing ads and books that claim a shortcut around scales. This literally made me angry. I started ranting to myself. You can picture it! Arrrrgh! Josh with steam coming out of his ears! Whew...Maybe that's why I got dehydrated. Anyways, after I cooled down, an interesting visual popped into my head:

We've become so obsessed with finding a short cut, it's like we'll drive fifty miles out of the way to find a Micky D's so we can get fast food instead of waiting. We'll buy some ABominator hammock thingy that will sculpt us while we eat snickers. And we won't, we won't, we won't go to the gym. And we doubly won't practice our scales.

DUH - this isn't good!

It's easier to sit down and learn your scales instead of learning shortcuts. So don't be a girly man!

Do some crunches, and do some scales!

It's good to be back yelling at y'all!

Rock on! And pass the exclamation points!


PS. Regarding scales - they are. Sort of like the Sun. Not really because anyone said, but because it's so. It's always good to learn about a phenomenon, not how to cheat it. Now practice, soldier!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Classes are IN!

Heyyy Rockers!

Wow, everyone tore it UP at the ZakkFest! More on that soon. But for now, I want to let everyone know that I will be in Waldorf today, Monday, March 2nd, conducting lessons as usual. If for some reason the weather gets too bad for me to say, you will receive a call or a text from me. But for now, I'll be there and I'll be square!

You do not have to come to lessons if you feel uncomfortable driving.

If you need to reach me, please call me at: 240-682-2801

Rock on!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A very hot fire

"Live your life like a very hot fire - leave nothing but white ash."
- Some guru dude

So - the ZakkFest is fast approaching. It's gonna be rockin'. It's the first ever recital that I'm hosting. As I'm training my little terrorists this week, I've noticed an extra urgency in both the learning, and the teaching. They're going on stage for real. So, they want to learn their part right. It's sink or swim time. It's awesome. And it's just what the lesson program needed.

In addition to learning the notes, we've also been learning about stage performance. The biggest issue is stage fright. I think everyone's afraid that they will look stupid.

Ironically, it's just this fear that brings that very thing on. I've encouraged everyone to pretend that they're not scared, no matter what they feel. "Be Dramatic!" I yell, waving my arms around.

Here's rule #1 for rockin' the house: Don't be halfway.

There's a fine line between genius and stupidity, and outward lack of confidence is the knot in the tight rope - it'll throw you off into lame land. I say outward because it really doesn't matter what you feel inside, it's what you project onstage. Think of yourself as a poker player. Make 'em think what you want 'em to think, not necessarily what's in your hand of cards.

And always, always, be 100% in rockin' the house. That's how Diamond Dave looks cool, when he could look like a complete moron.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Victimizing ourselves

How often do we cheat ourselves out of greatness?

That is a question that bears repeating as we walk through our days. And more importantly, how do we cheat ourselves?

Here's a few ways that I do, and that I've seen.

1. Lack of confidence. It's important to believe in our sound, and ourselves...or at least pretend to. To quote my favorite bat biter, Ozzy Osbourne himself - You've got to believe in yourself, or no one will believe in you. ("Believer", off "Diary of a Madman.")

2. Lack of discipline. For me, discipline builds confidence. If I've taken the time to play an arpeggio five hundred times, well, I know I'm pretty good at it. Moreover, I know I'm capable of sitting down and enduring that, so that gives me an extra "superman" edge.

But the biggest one that I see in music, but more commonly in life, is the one of Victimization.

If you catch yourself saying "Oh, I really wish I could do that, but there's no way a loser like me will ever be able to achieve greatness" or "I hate Jeff Beck because his tone is so much better, and will always be better, than mine" you could be showing the classic signs of the victim.

I'm a little over my head in psychology terms here, but I'd assert that, for our purposes, the victim refuses to take responsibility for the current situation.

Now, if you're the victim of a murder, you'd probably refuse to take responsibility, because well, you'd be dead. Ha ha! If someone beats you, well, that's not your fault (unless you really had it coming.)

But, I'm talking about the dangerous, subtle type of victim. The type that says "Well, my band can't get a record deal, because the drummer is always late."

That's refusing to accept responsibility for the situation. You need to either fire the drummer, or make sure he shows up. Take it on yourself.

How about "well, I just can't sing. I'm tone deaf." Then train your ear!

The one that I get all the time is "Oh, I'd never be able to play guitar. I'm not coordinated enough." Have you ever seen me try to throw something?

The point is - take full responsibility for your actions, and more importantly, situation. If you don't want to get a record deal, don't blame the drummer! Just say "well, I'd rather not!"

If you don't want to play guitar, just tell yourself "I'd rather not!"

Here's a good rule of thumb: Could you tell your excuse to Mr. T and live?

Excuses absolve us of accountability. While it really stinks sometimes to always be in charge of our lives, in charge we are, and that's the absolute fact, regardless of if we like it or not.

It's easy to blame a bad economy for your slow business, or stupid bandmates for lack of success. There's someone to complain to then.

But when you're breathing your last hundred breaths, remember this: The Reaper doesn't have a complaint department.

So man up, and if you want to play like Steve Vai, just do it! If you want to sell out the Verizon Center, make it happen!

Don't be a victim.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Be a Man

Yo Rockers!

Man, did y'all hear about Chris Brown wailing on Rihanna? Geeze, bro, I don't like to follow all the celebrity chatter, but that really sucks. Domestic violence always sets me off. About a year ago, I went down to the local "racetrack" (parking lot) to run go karts with my brothers. We walked in on some lady who got popped in the face by her boyfriend. "Police! Call the police!" I thought she was laughing. She was sobbing. Her boyfriend drove off in a hurry. I'll never forget her face - a mask of pain, blood, tears, and sorrow.We waited with her for a half hour for the cops to show up, and finally took her back home so Mom could help her get her bloody face clean.

She wasn't hit that bad - she could have probably have gone to work the next day with a band aid and a clever story. But let me tell you - she had a hole torn in her soul that you could have driven a mack truck through.

So, to be threatened, and beaten unconcious - and to have it all in the news - I can't imagine. And I doubly can't get over what's come out about her Dad. Quote: Fenty said he wouldn't tell his daughter what to do, he did say, "If it were me, I'd move on."

Now - if I had a daughter - and someone choked her till she passed out - First, I'd be on the phone with my soft talking buddy with an Italian accent and a big limo in LA. A few days later, I'd call Chris' mommy to to ask where I could send the flowers. "My sincere condolences about the loss of your son, Mrs. Brown. The roads are so dangerous nowadays."

Rihanna won't be alright for a long time to come - if ever. I have a piece of art hanging in my kitchen. It's a sculpture of a weeping woman's face. It's called "Sometimes." It was made by a lady who's had Rihanna's treatment times a thousand. And while I never have had to deal with something like that, it gives me just an inkling of what it must be like.

Just for the record, I'm not a fan of Rihanna's music. I'm a rock guy, bro! But this is about more than music.

Since I have an audience of young males, I'd like to remind you to be strong enough to be a gentleman. Take pride in your craft of music. Always play in tune, always play your best. And anywhere, anytime, keep your honor by honoring others. Hold your head up high, and be a good man. As musicians, we're examples. In the spotlight, we have the opportunity to inspire. Let's lead by example, and motivate our audience to good. Honor used to be big in the old days. Sure, it got out of hand, and people were shot over it in duels (classic male antics), but I think we can take the good from that school of thought.

There's pride in honor, and Chris Brown has no honor left. If he has any pride remaining, I hope the DA sees to it that he has time to cool off in a quiet place with some mandated time out.

Come on, gents (and ladies.) If we're disciplined enough to achieve a high level of musicianship, let's use what we've learned, and apply it to ourselves.

Rock on!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The ZakkFest - be there!


I was visiting my folks yesterday. I ran into the house, grabbed a fire extinguisher, and ran out. "I'd better make sure my car's not on fire." It wasn't. It occurred to me that I get pretty wound up.

And I haven't come unwound yet, because it's almost time for The ZakkFest.
What is it? It's a rock 'n roll recital for my clients! It's going to be very instructional. It's gonna show you how to rock.

Here's the deal:

What: A talent show/recital for my clients and their buddies.

When: Saturday evening, February 28th.

Where: My office building. It's gonna be loud.

Who: Students and their buddies.

Why: Because it's gonna be the coolest thing ever! It's a great opportunity for you to practice your live playing. Meet your fellow students! No matter if you've been playing for a week, or twenty years, come on up and play a song.

Details: I'll have a backline set up. That is, in every day terms, amps, effects, mics, and speakers. Just bring your favorite guitar, and rock on! Pick one or two songs that you'd like to play. If you'd prefer not to play, I need plenty of help setting up, tearing down (especially clean up!), running stuff, and being part of the crew.

I really encourage everyone to play. You might have only been playing for a little while, or maybe you're shy. This is a perfect opportunity for you to step into the spotlight, because there's no pressure, there's no prizes, and it's gonna be a very friendly crowd.

Be there!

So, I'll fill you in if you have any other questions. Come on, be a Juke Box Hero!

Rock on!

- Josh

Friday, February 6, 2009

Stifled by the shadow

Hey hey hey!

Whew, it's been a little while! Between endless trips to the hardware store, tons of guitar lessons, home improvement, and gearing up for a gig...I've been quiet. But anyone knows a Josh doesn't stay that way.

I was driving home last night, rumbling along the dark highway, and guess what - I had a blog idea. I get 'em a lot when I'm driving.

Here's the point: Innovation sounds groovy. Filling shoes and proving yourself does not.

Let's take some great innovators to check out. Charlie Parker is a cool example. Saying he played the saxophone is like saying Jesus had a mullet. He was one of the creators of Bebop. Charlie, not JC, that is. Listen to how exciting and cutting edge his music is - from sixty years ago!

But let's take another one, and a great illustration of the innovation vs. emulation. Eddie Van Halen.

Everyone wants to play like Ed. And nobody can play like Ed, because only Eddie is Eddie. You can't play like me, and I can't play like you. So when we try to play like someone, we run into trouble.

Now, when Eddie plays, he sounds fresh. He sounds new. He's the thing. When other people try to play like Ed, they can sound well...stifled.

I think a lot of players, myself included, are so awestruck by these mighty guitar heroes, that we often find ourselves standing in a gigantic shadow - so concerned with living up to those standards, that we don't use that time to find our own voice.

The ironic thing is - that very uniqueness is what makes the heroes sound so cool! Nobody plays an E7#9 chord like Jimi, and nobody howls like Stevie.

I think what we can, and should gain from these cats would fall under a few ideas:

- Dedication to their art
- Learning from their heroes - to a point
- Confidence in their own sound

Because, let's face it, if Randy didn't FULLY rip your face off with crazy train, it might as well be a disco song.

So mean it, and mean it to be you.

I'm off to write a song for my aunt.

- Josh

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Ultimate Silly Hat Contest Winner is...

Aretha Franklin. Sorry, Shirley, Brad, and Evan!

Wow, oh wow! We've got a new prez! Rockin'!

A few points I got from watching this exciting and very historic event:

1. No Bailout for Atlantic or Epic

Let's hope that the government doesn't take over the music industry. They do not know how to work a crowd. (I couldn't believe nobody said to the millions of screaming fans "Let me hear you say Hope!" or rile 'em up anyways!)

2. She wasn't much like a beauty queen, or a movie scene

Let's hope the government doesn't take over any beauty pageants. Dianne Feinstein for MC? Really, Gus? Out of two million in attendance? I mean...Let's at least get someone who isn't shriveled, grating, and who has absolutely no sense of humor or personality to introduce my main man, dig?

3. In the question of "who's da man"
The answer is Yo Yo Ma.

4. God gave us humor, so we could laugh at
The main preacher man sounded who like a homophobic Bill Murry. Who put him in there?

5. Some preachers do rock
At least the old guy who gave the benediction had a cool voice, AND he tried to work the crowd with a "say amen!" I really thought the fella was gonna fall over. But he didn't!

6. Legato. Is. Not. Just. For. Steve. Vai.

Connecting phrases is sometimes a good thing, even for a poet.

Despite my sarcasm, it was pretty darn cool. What a neat day.


I found the tone I've been looking for.

Yo Yo Ma has it. I must steal his amp. Did anyone see him play? I was practicing my guitar as I was watching the show, but I put it down when he picked up the cello. For years now, I've been struggling with the dilemma of sound vs. nature. I love how open, pure, and uncluttered the Earth's tone is. The wind can rip, yowl, whisper, and roar. But it's never got lousy tone. Streams can babble, chatter, flow, and rush, but they don't sound cluttered.

Music is beautiful, but it sounds stifling sometimes. I think that some music with birds and frogs in it is lame. I want that pure sound, but with a man-made instrument.

I have never seen it done. Coltrane came pretty close, as did Bird when he played "Summertime."

But the Yo Yo had it! So did his violin playin' pal...oh, what's his name, yeah, Itzhak Perlman! DARN! Those cats had it DOWN! Their sound cut through me like a knife. Or...the wind.

I now know it can be done. So, I'm off to find that sound. That pure, real, merciless, honest, transparent, cold, flowing sound. The tone of a stream fueled by snowmelt in Vermont. The quality of the wind rushing up the side of the Shenendoah mountains to greet you as you stand at the top, as it cleanses the dust of the world from your hair and your mind.

And when I do, I will certainly stand up before the crowd, and say "I can't hear youuuuuuuu!"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Football chicks weird me out

Oh yes they do. Not the cheerleaders, silly. The girls who always know more about football than I do. I got to thinking about the time I was in Panera and...Wait, this is a music blog!

Sorry, I get distracted sometimes. Oh look, a chicken!'s wearing a jersey, too. Weird.

But down to business. I was boring one of my students yesterday with a neat latin jazz song called "Oye Como Va." (Santana covers it, too.) My client is a death metal guitarist. So he brings in his axe just outfitted with an EMG 85 and tuned down two steps and what do I do..."Dude, you gotta check out this groove!"

But I always think learning from different styles can only help. Sure, not an in-depth study of 'em if they're not what you're interested in, but just a skimming. One thing I was telling him was that "non-white" music is usually better at hitting the off-beats than us fellas that glow in the dark and wear hats with horns.

So, if you like playing viking metal, great! So do I! Rock on. But checkin' out some ethic grooves can really sharpen your sense of groove and time.

Check out this vid of "Oye Como Va." The changes are Am7 - D9. See if you can nail it.

Rock on! (er....groove on!)

- Josh

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What would Jesus play?

Hey Rockers!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Whew! Sorry I've been so darn quiet. I've been moving! But now I'm sitting in my new studio, with a bowl of pasta, listening to some Van Halen.
So, expect some more blogs!

On a serious note, I just found out that my aunt was diagnosed with cancer today. Talk about her world exploding. Holy smokes. It made me take a minute at the gym, and really appreciate how well my body was functioning. Sure, I didn't bench quite as much as I wanted to, but at least I'm up for trying. My thoughts are with her.

So, with that sense of perspective, things seem a lot clearer for me. These next few months will be a crazy journey, indeed. I think I'm gonna write a song for her.

Whew. Switching gears a bit, we'll take our next question from a fella who we'll just call "Jesus." OK, his name isn't really Jesus, but trust me, it's realllll close. (No, it's not Jimi, either.)

So, J-man dropped me a note, and said:

Dear Mr. Urban,
My name is Jesus and I'm a college student from the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. I'd like to interview you through email regarding your expansive knowledge on guitar theory (emphasis mine) and guitar-playing in general. I'm writing a research paper where I am trying to prove that all guitarists should learn music theory on the guitar instead of being limited by only learning tab. You see, I'm also a guitarist and after reading "The Crusade" from ultimate-guitar and learning from them some months ago (and actually still learning), I chose to try and prove theory as a better learning tool when I was faced with the task of choosing my topic for my research paper. Subsequently, I chose you as my interviewee since you were the one who wrote the series of articles where I learned all of my theory and inspired me to write about something relevant to us musicians.
Here are the questions I'd like you to please answer:
1. If there are, what are the advantages of learning through tab?
2. What are the advantages of learning guitar though music theory?
3. What are the disadvantages of learning guitar though music theory?
4. As a professional musician, which of the two do you prefer and why?
5. Most people nowadays begin with tab. If you were to choose the learning method they would begin with, which would you choose and what are your reasons?
I would appreciate any and all reponses you could give to my questions. Thank you again.

Heh...I like that "expansive knowledge" part. Here's my answer:

Where I'm coming from:

I'm a guitar instructor and musician hailing primarily from the American rock school of thought. My style is a mix of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, James Brown, and Charlie Parker.

1. If there are, what are the advantages of learning through tab?

I always teach tab first. I feel that it makes the guitar instantly accessible. Advantages over traditional notation would include: Ease of use, popularity, and the ability to be specific. The guitar has the same notes in multiple places, which is both a blessing and a curse. If the score calls for the E above middle C, a piano player is faced with only one choice, while the guitarist, several. Tab eliminates any confusion in such regard, especially helpful as to which is the most convenient position to play a particular passage in.

2. What are the advantages of learning guitar though music theory?

For me, this is a two part question. The advantages to learning the guitar through traditional notation, or sheet music, is the fact that it's a universal language. If the guitarist wishes to perform a rendition of Beethoven's 9th symphony, and especially likes the viola part - no problem! That music is readily available in viola format, and is easily arranged for guitar. However, the most striking benefit is the ability to efficiently notate rhythms in the music. Tab usually contains no such provisions, and when it does, it's very clumsy. The beat of the song is arguably more important than the notes, and notation contains that mechanism to convey that. If you bury the score in a time capsule, and dig it up hundreds of years later, you can play it note for note! Just think - Mozart didn't have an 8-Track recorder, but we can still play his music exactly as it was intended to be played!

Part two of the question is the theory. If tab and notation are the ways to write the words of music, theory is the grammar, science, and usage of the language. While it's not essential to learn, I've found it extraordinary helpful to my personal quest. I've found it helpful as a compositional guide, a way to take a very educated guess at what scales to use over what chords, and speaking of chords, as a way to understand them better. Instead of being slave to the chord, the theoretician can, through an understanding of the function of the chord, find a place to suit it the best. I like to think of music theory as chemistry. I can randomly mix up chemicals with my chemistry set, and stumble into a glorious explosion, or I can know the formula for TNT. I like to know where to jump off.

4. As a professional musician, which of the two do you prefer and why?

I use, and teach, tab the vast majority of the time. A third way to communicate music has not been mentioned - the chord chart. I use these a lot, too. I'm not as fluent as I'd like to be with my sight reading, so I usually use tab for the rock songs. However, when I want to play a classical or jazz piece, I always prefer the notation. I like to start from the original composition, and work my way out. They're usually written in standard notation.

5. Most people nowadays begin with tab. If you were to choose the learning method they would begin with, which would you choose and what are your reasons?

It would depend entirely on my goal. If I aspired to be a jazz musician, play on a cruise ship, or do session work, I'd go more with notation. For the rock and blues, I'd stick with the tab, while learning notation, too.

On the subject of theory, I consider it not to be essential, but extraordinarily helpful. Theoretical shortcuts have been a waste of time for me. I'd like to compare it to language in general, and speakers in particular. While it is true that not all great grammarians are inspirational public speakers, it is true that most great speakers have a command of their primary language. For me, music theory helps tremendously by: - Knowing how the chords and scales relate in a song - Determining the key of a song - Choosing a scale to use as a jumping point for a solo - Compositional means - Understanding different styles and sounds.

However, it's just one means to an end. My favorite guitarist ever, Stevie Ray Vaughan, didn't know theory. I know more than he did in that regards, but compared to him, I'm lousy! It's just a tool that I've found helpful.

- Josh

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