Thoughts On Sight Reading

     Today, while practicing sight reading on guitar from songs from The Real Book, I had a moment of realization. The realization was based on trying approach the melody for Gershwin's "Summertime" in different playing positions. Playing positions are where we put our hands in relation to the frets up and down the guitar neck. For example: first position is where our first finger easily plays the lowest notes on the first fret, fifth is where the finger plays in relation to the fifth fret; 12th position is where the first finger plays its lowest note on the 12th fret, etc. There are also instances where the positions can be hybridized via stretches or slides, so deviations and different combinations or subsets may occur.       Regardless, sometimes I like to take melody from a jazz standard and try to play it in open or first position. Then I see how it would be played in successive positions up the neck. I did just this today with the aforementioned Gershwin tune. It is

Beholden To The Muse

  Because art is a very bad word in this country... a very bad word. -- John Cassavetes, (A Constant Forge) When art is adopted and subsequently funded by the major entertainment industry, the creative act must be the criterion, otherwise the substantial risk is that the power of the artistic act will become compromised. In order for art to reach its full cultural and creative potential, it needs to be allowed to flourish and germinate without creative interference by profit based businesses in the artistic decision making process. Indeed, when a multi-billion dollar corporation or conglomerate adopts an artistic movement with the intent of marketing it for profit, the art can become highly affected and manipulated. When prerogatives which are more concerned with fiscal, rather than artistic success gain control, the art can become inanimate, dilute, dormant and ineffectual -in terms of cultural change. While the art is st

Practicing An Instrument

  Recently somebody expressed their frustration to me about the difficulty they were having progressing on their instrument. They were discouraged and felt unmotivated. This was my response.     "There's nothing wrong with making mistakes. It's how we learn and ultimately get better. It's okay to suck. You will suck. It can take a long time to get good and be able to drop into a flow state. You will get frustrated. Just keep going. Give yourself the space to be bad. Some days are golden, others are like swimming upstream thru mud. Some days start great and then fall apart. Some days start hard and then get better. Just show up everyday and do the work. Give yourself permission to freak out, if something is frustrating, change gears, take a walk, play along to a record or just beat the shit out of your instrument and get mad. Throw your stick across the room and scream. Walk away if you need to, but come back. The more you play, in every way, the more the ins

Slide Guitar: Warm Up Exercises

Slide is a different beast when it comes to playing guitar. Often it is played in a variety of alternate tunings, which totally throws off a lot of the shapes and patterns that standard tuning uses. In addition to being a tricky thing to do without making too much buzzing and rattling, it is also important to apply the tonality of the major, minor and pentatonic variations to slide. One trick to compensate for this is to begin to think more linearly. Here are a few exercises to help make that happen. They can be done in any tuning, standard or open. Practice sliding from an open ringing note to the 12th fret. This requires the ability to “drop in” on the already ringing open note. Be careful not to mute the open note when applying the slide and try to minimize the knocking sound as you put the slide upon the strings. Try to play cleanly and with the best intonation possible. (If notes buzz or rattle, use one of the fingers behind the slide to dampen the strings.) Once this is fairly ea

Guitar Warm Up Exercises

I used to give little thought to stretching and warm up exercises on guitar. Rather, I would just pick up my guitar and play, with little concern for loosening things up in my hands, arms and body.  I would just play until (sometimes) my fingers, arms, neck and back would hurt. I might stretch or rub a tight muscle if necessary. But I usually didn't think too much about it. While this worked for a while, eventually I started to feel more aches, pains, tingles and tension. So I began to really see the value of stretching, warming up and doing seemingly mundane exercises repetitively on a frequent basis. Below are some things that I have picked up from various sources over 30 years of playing guitar. I try to do these on a regular basis -and I try to have my guitar students do these regularly too.  In addition to helping build better technique, doing these things often helps address areas of tension and allows one to relax more in their play

Feeling The Sound

For years as a guitarist I had no idea what an Fmaj7 add#11 chord should be called. I just knew that when I played that particular chord shape, it sounded good and created a color or a feeling that I liked. The specific ring of the open high strings in combination with the fretted low notes created an inexorably pleasing and strange sound. I had little theoretical insight into the particulars of the chord. I just thought of it as being some bizarre form of F.  But the exotic and complex feelings that this chord evoked in me were magical. Here is a diagram of the chord/ shape that I mean.       I don't exactly remember when the above chord shape became something I began to consciously play.  I probably inadvertently played it in the frustrating process of learning the full barre chord shape -most likely because my first finger wasn't strong enough to hold down all of the strings. But somewhere along the line, I began to use this modified barre chord shape because I liked the way

When Thirds Collide: The Seventh Sharp Nine Chord

Most guitarists have encountered some form of the 7#9 chord. It can be heard in The Beatles’ “Taxman,” Pink Floyd’s “Breathe,” Prince’s “Sexy MF,” as well as in songs by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Pixies, and many others. It is often referred to as the “ Hendrix Chord” because it shows up in many Jimi Hendrix songs. (“ Purple Haze,” “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Foxy Lady,” and “ Crosstown Traffic”, are a few examples.) But the 7#9 chord was used to great effect long before Jimi Hendrix included it in his own compositions. In jazz it popped up in pieces by Grant Green, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, and notably in the Miles Davis modal masterpiece “ All Blues,” where it appeared not once but twice, as a D7#9 and a D#7#9. Hendrix and Pink Floyd were both influenced by jazz that explored the 7#9 chord, an important reminder that the history of music is a continuum, and that musicians often assimilate their influen

Harmonic Climates (Recipes For Musical Moods)

“A melody functions in a harmonic climate. The chord that’s being played is a harmonic climate.  [If] it’s an augmented chord, it’s a mysterious climate. If it’s a diminished chord, it’s a little tenser.  If it’s minor, it’s serious. If it’s major, it’s happy. If it’s major 7th, you’re falling in love.  If it’s augmented 11th, it’s bebop.  You know these are all established harmonic aromas that people recognize.”  -Frank Zappa   The preceding Zappa quote is worth its weight in gold, because it precisely explains some of what it is that we typically feel emotionally (at least in Western culture) in regard to music. This is something that we often take for granted -how we feel when we hear music. We may certainly feel these emotions on a subconscious level, but how often do we consciously think: “I’m feeling scared because of this music,” when we watch a movie with eerie dissonant strings as a soundtrack? Or how often do we question why we might cry when minor key piano music is paired w