Question Marks from Previous Newsletters


Question Mark... (May 2017)

Favorite Henry Johnson Recordings?

There are several album releases featuring Henry Johnson as a leader, and keeping things real they're all very good. When it comes to straight-ahead jazz both "An Evening At Sea" and "Organic" (with Nancy Wilson) come to mind. I had the opportunity to review the latter for Just Jazz Guitar magazine. HJ's earlier work in what was called contemporary (or smooth) jazz always had a great appeal to me because of my eclectic nature and affinity for groove-based tunes. "Missing You" was terrific. However, "New Beginnings" (with Freddie Hubbard) has always been a personal favorite of mine.


Question Mark... (April 2017)

Good Tips for Starting A Solo?

Just as I've stressed the importance of a lasting impression at the end of an improvised solo, I could make an equal or even a more compelling case for how you begin a solo. Regardless of genre, you need to "set the table" for your listeners in a way that immediately makes them want to hear what comes next. I highly recommend starting with a simple theme using sustained pitches and/or good phrasing, because either one invites response as the story and message unfolds. For that reason, resist any temptation to play fast or use too many notes, since that totally defeats the purpose.


Question Mark... (March 2017)

The Best Book for Jazz Licks?

While there are certainly some good books out there, if I had to cite a publication that I consider a "must-have" for jazz players it would have to be "Improvisational Patterns: The Bebop Era" by David Baker. Of the three volumes the first one is simply unbelievable in scope. There are literally hundreds of long two-five licks, all from solos that Mr. Baker transcribed over the years. Better yet, they are all organized according to the starting pitch related to the Dm7 (II) chord in the key of C. To say that it's an exhaustive compilation would be an understatement to say the least. Trust me.


Question Mark... (February 2017)

Melodic Alternatives for Basic Blues?

Assuming that you already have a command and knowledge of minor, major and dominant blues language when improvising over a traditional 12-bar blues, there does exist a terrific fourth option if you wish to introduce something more melodic into your solos. All you have to do is think a 5th away from the root of any 7th chord and use minor lines. As an example, in the key of C it would be G minor over C7, C minor over F7 and D minor over G7. Just keep in mind that you don't want to use minor blues licks, but melodic cliches more associated with jazz. I only use it sparingly, but it's very effective.


Question Mark... (January 2017)

Correct Way to Finger Chords?

Despite the way that we initially learn how to finger any chord voicing, regardless of how simple or complex it may be, there is almost always an alternative option. Just as it is with single-note passages, you should base your decision on several things. One is the context in achieving a smooth transition between the event before and the one after. The overall sound quality plus ease of physical execution are certainly important factors, as is the choice of when to use bar chords as opposed to individually fingering each note. My best advice is to keep an open mind and experiment.


Question Mark... (December 2016)

Any Technical Advice for Bass?

Assuming that you play or double on electric bass, it's not the same as playing a guitar and I mean from a purely technical point of view. Just like an upright player would do, use your fourth finger instead of your third (ring) finger for whole-step (two fret) reaches on any given string. This places the finger right behind the fret wire for a better sound without requiring unnecessary stretching, enabling you to just close your eyes and play regardless of style when you're in a rhythm role. For solos and heads you can add the third finger as needed. Finally, always use your right-hand fingers, not a flatpick.


Question Mark... (November 2016)

Thoughts Regarding Diminished Chords?

As you might know, a diminished chord consists of four tones each a minor third apart, so any one of them can be considered the root. They are also enharmonically related to a 7th chord with a b9 (e.g. C7b9 = Edim7). If you lower any tone of a diminished chord that note will become the root of a basic 7th chord. As such they are typically used to help a dominant chord resolve while adding an alteration. While diminished chords are inherently popular among jazz pianists and guitarists, they can be remarkably effective in traditional blues progressions as well, especially when used over the IV chord.


Question Mark... (October 2016)

Most Powerful Practice Advice?

This is something that I've said on many an occasion, yet I'm not the first player or instructor who believes in this critically important philosophy, and it's one worth repeating. "Only practice something that you would actually play for someone." If you take this advice seriously it will instantly eliminate any abstraction in your daily study and enable you to get far more out of the time that you invest. While there are some rare exceptions, no one wants to hear meaningless scales or exercises. If you simply can't part with them, reduce your commitment to just five minutes out of every hour that you practice.


Question Mark... (September 2016)

What About Lead vs Rhythm Guitar?

Even though there is a clear distinction between the role of the guitar when taking a solo or that of providing accompaniment, to me the ideal scenario is being fully capable of doing both. The entire lead/rhythm term is more associated with rock, blues and country ensembles, and it's certainly acceptable as well as viable given those genres plus the number of band members typically involved. However, rock legends like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan were well known for blending the roles without relying on a rhythm player, and that's certainly the case for most jazz guitarists.


Question Mark... (August 2016)

Any Tips for Writing Melodies?

I have a very simple yet effective method when it comes to composing melodies for songs. Once I establish a suitable chord progression, regardless of complexity, I make a concerted effort to put my brain as well as my instrument aside and just hum or sing something that appeals to me. That being said, my guitar or bass as well as my intellect does play a role in analyzing what I've heard, but it takes place after the fact and in that sense what I'm doing is transcribing what occurred naturally by ear. Are there exceptions? Sure, but this approach is the one that works best for me.


Question Mark... (July 2016)

Why Learn from the Best?

This may seem like a ridiculously easy question, but the answer is the very centerpiece of my language-based playing and teaching philosophy, and therefore worth addressing. As a lifelong student of music, I realized early on what a colossal waste of time it is if you make bad decisions regarding those who influence you, be they professional teachers and/or players that you decide to study. I learned almost everything I know by selecting powerful influences in the way of improvisers and composers. Strength always generates strength. You become what you practice. Advice? Choose wisely.


Question Mark... (June 2016)

When Does "Bad" Mean Good?

As I'm sure you well know, referring to something or someone being "bad" is a common slang term in music circles. Of course, it actually means just the opposite, as in he's a "bad" guitar player or that's a "bad" tune, a "bad" solo, bass line, etc, etc. I have a slightly different take on the term and it involves the word used as an acronym, because to me B.A.D. stands for "Better And Different," which is the ultimate goal for any artist. Better is always going to be a subjective point of view. Different is another story altogether. But personal opinion aside, when both are in play it's all good!


Question Mark... (May 2016)

Vertical vs Horizontal Navigation?

When it comes to guitar solos, for as long as I can remember there have been conflicting opinions regarding the best way to navigate the fingerboard. One school of thought is that you should aim to keep things within an approximate position (vertical) to promote efficiency and economy of motion. The other is that you should instead move like a violinist up and down the neck (horizontal). I subscribe to both approaches depending on the situation, since I've never believed in a "right vs wrong" technical philosophy. There are benefits to either method, so experiment and keep an open mind.


Question Mark... (April 2016)

Just How Important Is the Root?

This might seem like a simple question with an obvious answer, but it bears attention and discussion. The root of a given key is so powerful because it represents "home base" for a story-teller, which is precisely the role you play as an improviser or composer. When you listen to the great legends of blues, like the late B.B. King, you quickly realize that he came home to the root all of the time, which tied his entire message together. To a somewhat lesser degree this also holds true for the IV or V chords in a traditional blues, but this reality factors into jazz and other styles as well.


Question Mark... (March 2016)

What About Language Percentages?

This is a fascinating subject that very few players take the time to think about. When you improvise or compose, anything you come up with can fall into three language categories: Inside, Outside or Blues. Consider the first two melodic vs dissonant if they manage to confuse you in any way. The percentage factor rears its head when you begin to analyze the harmonic content of any player, because there are definite tendencies in how they hear things. For me, I've always valued blues first followed by inside and with a taste of outside (perhaps 70-20-10), but it can vary. It's a personal call.


Question Mark... (February 2016)

The Value of Last Impressions?

Just as it's critical to make a good first impression when taking a solo, what listeners will typically remember is how an improviser builds dynamics while telling a compelling story, then closes the deal leaving them wanting to hear more. This is a skill that the very best players possess, and it's not as easy as just flipping a light switch. Beyond the language content itself, you have to study soloists who excel in this department, something that I've done for as long as I can remember. In all honesty, I don't always succeed but more often than not I manage to get the job done. Strength generates strength.


Question Mark... (January 2016)

How Many Chords Does A Song Need?

I've played and written countless songs throughout my career. As a composer the number of chords used runs the gamut from one or two in some of my best groove-based vamp tunes, three or more in blues or pop songs, to a multitude of chord changes featured in latin and bebop jazz originals. The reality is that the amount of chords employed has very little to do with the end result, which is to move and positively impact as many listeners as possible. Even in a one-chord funk tune, if the bass line, head and guitar solo has the right combination of language and phrasing, it's as good as it gets.


Question Mark... (December 2015)

Most Memorable Holiday Tunes?

Every year at this time I dust off my repertoire of holiday classics that I've arranged for solo guitar. While I like them all I tend to favor those with ties to jazzy changes, like "The Christmas Song" and others cut from a similar cloth, including "White Christmas," "Have Yourself A Merry Christmas," "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Christmas Time Is Here." I've also arranged fun tunes like "Let It Snow," "Jingle Bell Rock," "The Little Drummer Boy" and a number of traditional songs such as "Greensleeves" and "Feliz Navidad." There are more, but those are among my most memorable favorites to play.


Question Mark... (November 2015)

Is Surrendering a Positive Thing?

Although the word "surrender" is normally associated with giving up or losing a battle, I don't consider it a negative when the topic is music pursuit and learning in the aural tradition. When you surrender to core language as all of the greatest and most innovative players have done, everything starts to fall in place and comes into focus. Before I began learning by ear from powerful influences, I was like a ship at sea adrift without a rudder, confused, frustrated, uncertain and filled with self-doubt regarding my potential ability to ever improvise or compose. That evaporated once I surrendered to the real deal.


Question Mark... (October 2015)

Good Tuner for An Archtop Guitar?

Over the years I've used many guitar and bass tuners, but have preferred contact units made by companies like Intellitouch or Sabine. However, they can be cumbersome and problematic at times. If the tuner clamps to the headstock, then I find myself putting it on and removing it with each tuning. If it mounts flush to the body, that's fine for acoustics but not jazz guitars with a carved top. Recently I've been using D'Addario clip-on micro tuners. While they do clamp to the headstock, they're small enough to leave mounted, which is quite convenient. Extremely accurate, too. Highly recommended.


Question Mark... (September 2015)

Best Thing A Teacher Can Do?

Beyond the obvious aspects of providing a quality path while hopefully motivating and inspiring a student with superior material, I've always felt that the best thing a music teacher can do is provide answers to personal questions. When I took private lessons many years ago, I was a good student when it came to doing assigned homework, but I always kept a notebook where I would jot down any number of queries for my instructor. Often they had little to do with the assignments themselves. Walking away from a lesson with solid answers and advice is something that always made my day.


Question Mark... (August 2015)

Your Main Bass Influences?

This is a long list, because despite the perception that I'm primarily a jazz guy, I've played all styles of bass dating back to when I first picked up the instrument in the early 70's. Naturally I learned many of the classic signature bass lines associated with hit tunes and top bands. To this day I still love James Jamerson's work during the height of Motown, plus players like Rocco Prestia (Tower of Power), Louis Johnson and many other funk bassists. When it comes to jazz, beyond Jaco Pastorius it was all upright legends like Ray Brown, Ron Carter, Sam Jones and Rufus Reid.


Question Mark... (July 2015)

Should You Close Your Eyes?

I've learned most of what I know in the way of solos, licks and improvisational concepts from audio recordings, just like all of my influences did before me. For the record, those mentors include plenty of piano, sax and trumpet players. While the guitar is indeed a visual instrument and it's nice to see someone playing, I live by the C.Y.E. ("Close Your Eyes") Test in evaluating what I hear, then discovering how the language visually lays out on the fingerboard. Another great thing to do is to practice playing with your eyes closed, because it brings you much closer to what you hear and feel. Try it.


Question Mark... (June 2015)

Any Ideas Regarding Arpeggios?

Absolutely. Arpeggios are an integral part of melodies as well as solos. Essentially they are nothing more than variations on scales, because when you skip every other note you arrive at chord tones that comprise arpeggios. However, while many educators advocate practicing them as you would scales and modes, to me that doesn't make sense. You should definitely be aware of what they are, but in the long run youÕre much better off to learn core jazz and blues language that contains arpeggios, since that constitutes something that you would actually play for someone.


Question Mark... (May 2015)

Does Age Effect Our Rate of Growth?

Until about ten years ago I was always under the impression that as we age our rate of musical growth slows down. It made sense when I reflected on events earlier in my career, and how it seemed to take much longer as time marched on to reach the next plateau. All of that began to change drastically for me, when a jazz guitarist whom I deeply respect suggested that I start recording on a daily basis. I took his advice and within a few months I began to experience progress that I hadn't seen in years, so much so that I changed my mind. It's all about what you do regardless of your age that counts.


Question Mark... (April 2015)

The Most You've Ever Practiced?

Relatively early in my career I was goal-driven to push my daily study numbers up as high as possible. I started small but gradually began to add an extra hour a day, realizing that two hours instead of one meant that I would be twice as far along a year later. I used that as motivation until I was practicing 10 hours a day, 70 hours a week, and maintained that pace for almost a year. It wasn't easy, but by adding an hour a day I was able to slowly adjust to the schedule. The critical element lacking was the quality of what I was doing with those hours. Later I was able to achieve much more in far less time.


Question Mark... (March 2015)

Wes Montgomery Recordings?

Even though Wes passed away at 45-years-old and during the peak of his career in 1968, he left behind a powerful discography. The two richest periods were his Riverside years (1958-1964) and Verve years (1964-1966). Montgomery also made a few recordings for A&M (1967-1968) before his untimely departure. There are too many titles to recommend, but many feel that his famous "Smokin' At the Half Note" live recording and his two collaborations with organ legend Jimmy Smith, all from the mid-sixties, remain among his best. Thanks to these and his other recordings, Wes lives on for all of us!


Question Mark... (February 2015)

Most Valuable Listening Traits?

As a listener, there are four critical traits that I seek in a musician, especially when it comes to creativity and improvisation: Content, Phrasing, Feel and Message. All are important and not listed in any particular order. However, as an artist I find myself more drawn to the Content and Phrasing areas, because for me to enjoy any player or vocalist, Feel and Message have to be there in the first place. That being said, the average listener is less aware of what's happening harmonically or rhythmically. What matters most to them is being part of an emotional, story-telling experience. I couldn't agree more.


Question Mark... (January 2015)

How Many Original Blues Tunes?

Not to beat my chest regarding the genre, but when it comes to the blues I've composed close to a hundred originals dating back to the 80's. Almost all of them have been scored and a great many of them recorded. I'm very proud of this large body of work spanning slow, shuffle, funky, swing and bebop blues styles. The inspiration is directly related to all of the years I've spent playing standard blues covers coupled with the mountain of transcribing efforts to acquire core language, then connecting the dots in a way that's personal to who I am as a player, composer and educator.


Question Mark... (December 2014)

What Constitutes the Ultimate Solo?

Being a composer, to me the ultimate solo is the actual melody (head) of a given tune. While technically it's not an improvised solo per se, what I hear when creating a melody involves the same kind of language-based process as taking a solo. It could be harmonically very simple, complicated, melodic, bluesy, etc. In other words, the same elements that are associated with improvisation. However, it's far more important to the listener in the long run, because success is contingent on creating something truly memorable that withstands the test of time and bears repeated listening.


Question Mark... (November 2014)

Any Advice Regarding Vibrato?

Vibrato is a critical component for any guitarist in any genre. Just as it is for a vocalist, it introduces a soulful element that brings any note to life. There are two types of guitar vibrato. One is related to classical stringed instruments and involves left-to-right movement with any finger. The other stems from traditional blues, usually with the index finger using up-and-down movement with a rocking motion generated from the wrist. Both are viable depending on the situation, but when playing jazz solos and heads you want to be careful not to overuse your vibrato. Often a simple a "slide-off" works better.


Question Mark... (October 2014)

What About Language Sources?

Revealing the original source behind any piece of language that I share with a student is critical to me, for a number of reasons. One is that I want anyone that I coach to know that I wasn't just born with this knowledge, and that if it weren't for my influences I'd be a mere shell of the player, composer and educator that I am today. I also see myself as a conduit to my mentors. In that sense working with yours truly is like learning indirectly from the legendary players who taught me this priceless language. My mission is to encourage fellow players to do likewise, therefore knowing the source is essential.


Question Mark... (September 2014)

Harmonic Options for Blues Solos?

When it comes to basic blues improvisation, I like to use and to blend three approaches. The first involves minor blues language for all three chords. It's simple but highly effective if you use an array of dynamics associated with the guitar. Next is major or dominant blues ideas for the I chord with a return to minor for the IV chord. It's subtle but adds color to a solo while maintaining key-oriented thinking. The third option involved transposing major or dominant blues to the keys of the IV and V chords, which demands greater responsibility and skill. I love to mix 'n match all three slants in a blues solo.


Question Mark... (August 2014)

Live Band vs Backing Tracks?

In an ideal world there's nothing better than performing with a live band, but it goes without saying that it's not always easy to find the right musicians with a mindset and chemistry that allows you to play at your best. Backing tracks often get a bad reputation, but more often than not the reason is due to inferiority, either with the tracks themselves or with a player who's not bringing the real deal to the table. Another consideration is economics, because if you can sound like a convincing quartet and offer your services to a venue at a cost far less than a live band, you're simply going to get more gigs.


Question Mark... (July 2014)

What Is A "Genuine" Influence?

Whenever I hear someone cite an artist as a personal influence, the first thing I ask them is to show or teach me something that they learned from that player. It can be a simple lick, part of a solo, an original tune, etc. If they can't do that, in my book they may have been moved emotionally, but it's not a genuine influence that rears its head through tangible evidence in their own work. While it's fine to say that you've listened and enjoyed some of an artist's recordings or attended live gigs, it's nowhere near as meaningful. Every one of my mentors learned by imitating their influences, and it shows.


Question Mark... (June 2014)

Why Write Song Tributes?

Dedicating compositions to others is nothing new, but it's been a major factor and inspiration for me since I first began writing original songs back in the eighties. The subjects for my tributes range from artistic influences to family members, friends and even students. It's become a trademark for me over the years, and I would venture to say that I've composed close to a hundred tributes to date. Much of this body of work stems from gratification and a way of expressing thanks to those who mean so much to me. Whenever I perform one of these tunes I'm continually reminded of someone very special.


Question Mark... (May 2014)

The Value of Rubato Phrasing?

In case you're unaware of the term, rubato means performing in a "free time" fashion. It's most often associated with chord-melody work involving ballads, but also with intros and endings where there's no distinct meter or beat present. As a result, it allows you to take great artistic liberties while creatively interjecting some soulfulness into your work. Rubato also adds a lot of diversity for the listener while extending the length of a performance for the artist, typically when used to set the stage for playing in time and at tempo. Regardless of genre, it's one of my very favorite ways to express myself.


Question Mark... (April 2014)

Any Thoughts About Slow Blues?

I love playing slow blues, so much so that I frequently say my desert island song would be a tune like "Stormy Monday" or "Red House." What I enjoy about this style is the soulful, message-based vibe plus the opportunity to use creative phrasing combined with a wide variety of improvising devices. Besides traditional blues moves involving slurs, bends and vibrato, I like to utilize keyboard-oriented double-stops, octaves and chord punches done in a call & response fashion to frame the rest of the story. Those elements plus a touch of jazz are very effective on an archtop guitar with heavy strings.


Question Mark... (March 2014)

What's the Theory Yardstick?

In one of my past articles I mentioned something that my father had shared with me years ago. This was early in my career when I was understandably confused about music knowledge and so many of the terms involved. Pop told me that if all of the theory possible could reside on a 36-inch yardstick, I would only need 6 inches of it for anything that I would ever encounter in my music career. But he did go on to say that those 6 inches would be critically important. In retrospect he was right (as usual ;-), and I think about those words whenever I see a student wasting value time over-thinking.


Question Mark... (February 2014)

Why Is Writing Music Important?

This is a subjective question. First of all, when I refer to writing I'm not talking about composing, but simply documenting anything that you hear in standard notation. Truth be told, most of my blues and jazz guitar mentors couldn't write (or read) music to save their lives, but early on for me it became an absolute necessity for a number of reasons. One was that I was learning a mountain of language by ear and needed a way of reviewing it. I was also addicted to phrasing, and breaking down rhythms opened multiple doors as an improviser and composer. Now when it comes to teaching.. need I say more?


Question Mark... (January 2014)

What About Bird and Blues?

If you've ever questioned the connection between bebop and blues, a quick glance at alto sax legend Charlie Parker's repertoire of originals reveals a deep love for both genres. Bird's blues tunes that I've played on guitar and bass over the years would include Billie's Bounce, Au Privave, Bloomdido, Blues for Alice, K.C. Blues, Cool Blues, Bird Feathers, Perhaps, Mohawk, Bluebird, Now's the Time, Buzzy, Cheryl, Parker's Mood, Chi Chi, Barbadoes, etc, etc. There are many more, but suffice it to say that blues was critically important to Bird, because he knew that it was the very foundation of jazz.


Question Mark... (December 2013)

Any Classical Guitar Advice?

Even though I'm not a dedicated classical guitarist, I do consider myself to be somewhat of an authority when it comes to the methodology. Long ago I realized that there are many approaches to the genre based on the teachings of a number of famous players, and that most guitarists choose one school. However, what I was looking for was a comprehensive overview, and when I discovered "The Segovia Technique" by Vladimir Bobri, I knew that I had struck gold. It's a fantastic book, but the appendix alone is worth the price of admission, as the Maestro covers everything you need to know.


Question Mark... (November 2013)

Most Gratifying Music Achievement?

This is a subjective question, therefore the answer would vary depending on the artist. For me, it's an easy one. Although I'm very proud of my playing and improvising ability, not to mention all of the years that I've spent arranging and teaching, there is nothing that comes remotely close to the gratification of composing original songs that emotionally move listeners. The world is full of great guitar and bass players, but very few of them write compelling tunes. The only thing I would recommend is that you don't take as long as I did (18 years) before getting involved in such a rewarding endeavor.


Question Mark... (October 2013)

How Many Tunes Should I Arrange?

I began arranging standards in a wide variety of genres for solo guitar well over 40 years ago, and have never stopped. There are too many benefits to list, so I wouldn't put a limit on how many tunes to arrange. Then again, you do have to start somewhere. A good idea would be to aim at a small number, perhaps 9-10, which would be enough to perform a set of material or even make a nice recording to document your work and share it with others. Beyond that, shoot for the sky as I've done. At last count my repertoire of chord-melody arrangements stood at 320 tunes (and growing).


Question Mark... (September 2013)

What Is A Music Bank Account?

I often use the MBA analogy to explain an artist's success as an improviser, arranger, or composer. The way I see things, every time you learn anything important enough that you will eventually play it for someone, it's like making a powerful deposit into your music bank account. Personal examples would include classic melodies (heads), chord progressions, solos, licks, and bass lines. The more deposits you make in your MBA, the more your knowledge grows. And when the time comes to make a withdrawal during the creative moments of writing a tune or soloing, your acquired wealth will speak for itself.


Question Mark... (August 2013)

Thoughts Regarding Song Titles?

This is one of my all-time favorite subjects, actually dating back to years before I ever composed an original song. It probably stems from my literary background and fascination with word imagery and how it inspires eventual content, whether it be in an article or the melody, feel, and message of a song. My tunes are instrumental in nature, but obviously a title has everything to do with a set of lyrics as well. Even though I've written hundreds of tunes, I am always jotting down potential titles and currently have a huge database of song names awaiting the rest of the story.


Question Mark... (July 2013)

Suggested Bass Books & Methods?

One of the all-time best bass publications is "Standing In the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson." Not only does it contain a generous collection of bass lines that he composed and recorded for hit tunes, but they are performed and recorded by so many well-known bassists who were influenced by him. Highly recommended. Naturally, I invested years of work developing my Jazz Bassist lesson series, which I can say with complete confidence is the best method of its kind for aspiring bassists with an interest in that genre.


Question Mark... (June 2013)

Most Influential Solo Guitarists?

This would be a long list indeed for me. I can remember being knocked out by the pristine tone and playing of Johnny Smith on an archtop. Then there was the fingerstyle mastery of Chet Atkins and his many disciples, two of my favorites being Earl Klugh and Tommy Emmanuel. On the bossa nova front I grew up listening to Charlie Byrd. In jazz there was the warm subtle work of Wes Montgomery and early Kenny Burrell, and of course the virtuosity of the great Joe Pass. Tuck Andress is a remarkably inventive solo guitarist, as were Howard Morgen, Ted Greene, George Van Eps and others.


Question Mark... (May 2013)

Suggested Pat Martino Recordings?

Even though I enjoy Martino's earlier releases as a leader, like El Hombre, Strings, East, Footprints, and The Visit, the ones that had the bigger impact on me were Live ('72) and Consciousness ('74). I just love the vibe and warmth of that Philly-based band, which to my ear brought out some of Pat's most impassioned playing. His interpretations of classics like Sunny and Impressions, to name just two tunes from those recordings, really piqued my interest and led to full-blown transcriptions that secured the language concepts I was seeking. There are many fine recordings since that time period, too.


Question Mark... (April 2013)

The Best Jazz Guitar Composer?

Although questions regarding the best of anything are subjective, this is an easy one for me. As a composer, Wes Montgomery wrote, recorded, and performed some of my very favorite tunes. I can't list them all, but they would include Four On Six, Road Song, Sundown, Naptown Blues, The Thumb, and West Coast Blues among others. Each one of them has the same components found in his solos, with his trademark call & response interplay between single-note figures, octaves, and chords. Montgomery made full use of the guitar as a songwriting tool, fusing jazz and blues language like no other.


Question Mark... (March 2013)

Favorite Hank Garland Tracks?

While Hank did in fact release other albums as a leader, I'll confine these comments to his "Jazz Winds from A New Direction" release. First of all, the version that he and vibist Gary Burton did of "All the Things You Are" remains the best and most creative that I've ever heard. Garland's original "Riot Chous" swing blues is loaded with classic bebop and blues language/phrasing, and the same can be said for "Three-Four, The Blues" (Garland/Burton). Their spin on the uptempo "Move" is second to none in my book when it comes to hard swing and lyrical content blended with blues.


Question Mark... (February 2013)

Recordings by Horn Players?

It would take a long time to list the trumpet and sax albums that have moved me over the years. The epic "Kind of Blue" by Miles will always stand tall and have a special place for me, but the rest of Davis' discography, along with that of Parker, Coltrane, Hubbard, Adderly, and other horn legends, is all quite valuable to explore. You almost can't go wrong with the majority of their work. With regards to Tom Scott, my all-time favorites remain "Blow It Out" and "New York Connection" from the mid-seventies, recordings that I still enjoy to this very day.


Question Mark... (January 2013)

George Benson's Main Influences?

GB's influences are as broad as you can possibly imagine, and on more than once occasion he has been quoted as saying that he would take (steal) anything from anyone. He has an undying affinity for traditional blues that contributes to his soulfulness in a big way. I've heard him replicate the work of guitar legend Wes Montgomery like few can do, with his use of octaves and the right-hand thumb. A good friend told me that to this day George can sing two dozen Bird alto sax solos note-for-note, besides playing them on guitar. He was also impacted by jazz guitarist Hank Garland's work in the sixties.


Question Mark... (December 2012)

Memorable Oscar Peterson Albums?

The "Big O" left behind an enormous body of work. For me, the classic "Night Train" release (Verve) is a must-have, featuring his epic version of "C Jam Blues" by Duke. The "Hello Herbie" reunion recording featuring Herb Ellis is another great choice, and one of my all-time faves is the "Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One" with Clark Terry on trumpet. Then there are the numerous recordings produced by Norman Granz on the Pablo label, including his collaboration with guitarist Joe Pass. Finally, do yourself a big favor by picking up a copy of "Music In the Key of Oscar," a fabulous video documentary.


Question Mark... (November 2012)

Favorite Kenny Burrell Recordings?

This is a tough one, because KB has a massive discography, and it's difficult to cite a weak recording because of the passion for blues that permeates everything he's ever done. However, some personal faves would be "The Kenny Burrell Quintet with John Coltrane," "Blue Bash" and "Organ Grinder Swing" (with Jimmy Smith), "Have Yourself A Soulful Merry Christmas," "Blues: the Common Ground," and "God Bless the Child." This particular group represents only a 13-year time period, but what I learned from those recordings has impacted my playing forever, and I still love hearing them today.


Question Mark... (October 2012)

Were You Always A Good Soloist?

Definitely not, which is something that I often like to point out to offset the multitude of compliments I get nowadays. I have always considered myself creative and with a certain knack for how things fit together, but until I had truly acquired a real-world vocabulary, I was just like any other weak improviser relying on scales to tell a story. While I had the best of intentions and all the desire in the world, it was a boring story with no substance until I saw the light and began following in the footsteps of my mentors. From that day forward my playing got stronger and stronger. We become what we practice.


Question Mark... (September 2012)

How Do You Reach A Listener?

The answer to this one is pretty simple, and if you take a moment or two to put yourself in the average listener's shoes, you'll get the answer. As that person, I want to be moved emotionally by what I'm hearing. I want feeling, conviction, and powerful harmonic content to the degree that every single event means something. From the artist standpoint, it's a continual quest to elicit those precious "Yeah, man!" moments. Blues power is a huge part of that equation for me, since there is so much inherent feeling and story-telling associated with that genre, no matter what song that you happen to be playing.


Question Mark... (August 2012)

Any Favorite Trumpet Players?

Sure. Because of my jazz background, some of the legends on trumpet who have influenced me will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with that instrument and the genre itself. While I can name quite a few, those who probably stand out the most would be Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Clark Terry, and Freddie Hubbard. I heard a lot of Miles growing up, because my father was such a huge fan of his work. Naturally I play many of his epic compositions and have transcribed some of his solos, adapting the licks and concepts to guitar. All of the players I mentioned have strong blues roots, too.


Question Mark... (July 2012)

How Valuable Are Recordings?

While IÕve spent a great deal of time preaching about the benefits of personal recording, this subject is more related to the artists whom we admire and their body of recorded work. The reality for almost all of us is that a playerÕs discography is the main way that weÕve come to appreciate what they bring to the table. Many listeners havenÕt been fortunate enough to catch their favorite players in a live context at all, and naturally when it comes to historical legends we only know them through their recordings. The truth is that without this medium weÕd have little if any knowledge of them. The value? Priceless!


Question Mark... (June 2012)

Who Is the Ultimate Guitar Thief?

I've always maintained that the best and most innovative players are those who borrow the most from others. I've never considered it to be stealing, since no one owns the language in the first place. If I had to cite one guitarist who would plead guilty as charged, it might very well be George Benson. Near the end of his lesson video, he stares right into the camera and invites you to drop by his place any time, where they're always having fun. But then he smiles and goes on to warn the viewer that if you play it, he'll take it! I love the fact that this guitar thief doesn't hide the method behind his madness.


Question Mark... (May 2012)

How Many Heads Should I Know?

"As many as possible" is the easy reply to that question. A head (aka melody) is worth it's weight in gold, regardless of the genre. With jazz and blues standards, any classic head is language-based and therefore a great source of knowledge, both from a harmonic as well as a phrasing standpoint. You can also consider learning and playing heads as a technical challenge, but unlike boring scales and exercises, you end up with something that you would actually play for someone. One good tip is to use less dense heads as vehicles for octave interpretation a la Wes, or for solo guitar arrangements.


Question Mark... (April 2012)

Your Favorite Kind of Jazz?

Quite contrary to what many think, I actually don't care for most jazz that I hear, particularly when it comes to the guitar. While I can and certainly do appreciate the creativity that is typically associated with improvisers, if a solo doesn't have the essential elements that I crave, than I lose interest fast. I'm looking for a powerful message, core language, a deep love for the blues, great phrasing, hard swing, emotional intensity as if there's no tomorrow, and the ability to make every single note count. As my father used to say, "If you can't walk away humming something special, it wasn't worth remembering!"


Question Mark... (March 2012)

What About Groove or Modal Tunes?

I've always had an affinity for groove-based progressions, modal tunes, vamps, montunos, etc, when it comes to improvising and composing. What's interesting is that a lot of traditional jazz guitarists are so accustomed to playing over changes that they purposely avoid tunes with a static harmony. I think it's the saxy blues side of my personality mixed with what I admire most about guitarists like George Benson that contributes to how much I enjoy blowing over a simple one or two-chord vamp. Phrasing and the use of percussive dynamics with repetitions are critically important in this style.


Question Mark... (February 2012)

Source for Learning Jazz Licks?

This is a subject near and dear to me. It was over 40 years ago that my father (trombonist) pulled me aside to tell me that if I ever wanted to improvise over changes, I would have to move beyond basic blues and learn jazz language. Then he proceeded to write out a page or two of his favorite II-V licks for me to learn. Even though it felt a little contrived to play them at first, when I listened back to my recorded solos I actually sounded like a real jazz guy. I still have that page of licks, but it was only the beginning, as I would go on to take his advice and transcribe countless jazz licks from great players.


Question Mark... (January 2012)

How About Guitar Trio Advice?

Most guitarists are rightfully concerned about performing in a trio context, because without a keyboard or a second guitar there is so much more space involved. To me, the critical element is being able to provide added percussion to the guitar role, through rhythmic licks, double-stops, octaves, and chord punches, executed with call and response phrasing. A solid example in a jazz context was legendary guitarist, Wes Montgomery. In blues-oriented rock, players like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan come to mind. Regardless of the genre, all three players used these elements with great success.


Question Mark... (December 2011)

Secret for Improvising Great Solos?

I am always preaching about the value of core language as the ultimate means-to-an-end when it comes to creativity, both with regards to improvised solos and melodies for original compositions. It's a belief and philosophy that spans all genres. That being said, the first goal is to acquire a solid language vocabulary so that you have something significant to use in telling a compelling story. Then it becomes a matter of using that knowledge and trusting your ear. This approach has worked magnificently for me for many years, and I credit it for my ability to consistently deliver high-quality solos.


Question Mark... (November 2011)

Best Tunes for Jazz Changes?

Once you realize the value in the language associated with jazz improvisation, especially long and short II-Vs, you need to identify and isolate specific chord progressions that will allow you to apply the knowledge. The standard swing blues is the ideal starting place, but after you get your feet wet with that 12-bar vehicle, next up are 16 and 32-bar classic tunes that demand change-running ability. At the top of my essential list would be "Tune Up" (Miles Davis), "Perdido" (Duke Ellington), "Pent-Up House" (Sonny Rollins), and "I Got Rhythm" (Gershwin). Master those and you're on your way!


Question Mark... (October 2011)

What About Vocal Influences?

Even though I'm an instrumentalist and not a vocalist per se, I am a huge fan of great singers spanning a wide variety of genres. I really believe that my strong affinity for soulful vocals is partially responsible for the phrasing, conviction, and passion that I try to put into every single note that I play on the guitar, or the melodies I write for an original composition. I have a similar appreciation for blues- oriented saxophonists, and often feel that I'm a singer or a sax player having an out-of-guitar-player's body experience. Choosing influences beyond my instrument has worked very well for me.


Question Mark... (September 2011)

Importance of Language Connections?

Once you are a disciple of language-based learning in the oral tradition of legendary players, the only remaining issue is effectively connecting the dots between your harmonic ideas. To me, this is a great problem to have, because the majority of players and teachers nowadays lack the critical, real-world language to even make those connections. My advice is to use the process of dry improvisation and arranging model solos for the express purpose of improving your ability to smoothly transition from one move to another. When you have the language, there are no bad notes to get in the way.


Question Mark... (August 2011)

Thoughts About Multiple Influences?

Many years ago I came to the logical conclusion that no matter how hard I tried, I would never equal the ability of any of my chosen mentors doing what they do best. However, I also had an epiphany that nowadays I refer to as "The 5% Rule." It dawned on me that if I gleaned 5% of what I admired the most from each one of 20 powerful influences, the eventual 100% sum total would be both personal and formidable. That's precisely what has materialized in the composer and improviser that I am today, and when I stop to think about it, my mentors acquired their skill by having multiple influences, too.


Question Mark... (July 2011)

Any Tips for Using Jazz in Blues?

Anything can theoretically be used in any improvising situation. However, when it comes to traditional blues, I really like to pick my spots to make things more interesting without drifting too far away from the associated language. If you've done your jazz homework and have a grip on the essential II-V progression (e.g. Dm7 to G7 in the key of C), you always have the melodic option of superimposing minor ideas over dominants. Examples: G minor over C7, C minor over F7, and D minor over G7. If I had to choose one location in a basic three-chord blues progression, it would be the 4th bar. Try it.


Question Mark... (June 2011)

What Are Your Favorite Guitars?

I employ four guitars on a regular basis for playing and recording. For archtop practice, I exclusively use an unamplified 1978 Ibanez GB10, which I love due to its smaller size but wider fingerboard. However, for the best tone in recording and performing I switch to my 1970 Gibson Super 400, a considerably larger instrument but with a thinner neck. For my acoustic work I prefer nylon-string guitars. All contemporary playing, arranging, and recording is done on a 2007 Pavan TP-20 cutaway, while for dedicated classical work I use a handmade1970 Paulino Bernabe that was built in Madrid, Spain.


Question Mark... (May 2011)

Thoughts On Being Overwhelmed?

This is a tough one, especially nowadays. When I was first learning to play many years ago, there was virtually nothing on the market to overwhelm an aspiring guitar or bass student. Whatever books you could find were basic methods at best. There were no transcriptions of cool solos or licks, either in books or in magazines, and this was decades before the Internet came into the picture. Today there is a glut of material out there, some good and some bad, and it's easy to feel inundated as well as confused. Be organized, focus on what you enjoy most, and prioritize your personal goals.


Question Mark... (April 2011)

Define Language-Based Learning?

It never ceases to amaze me how many players and teachers get that "deer-in-the-headlights" look when the language word is brought up in reference to learning music. Every single one of my influences acquired their speaking vocabulary by imitating their mentors, then assimilating the precious knowledge into a unique voice that resulted in innovation. In a nutshell, that is language-based learning, but for those who still believe that creativity starts with scales and theory in a book or classroom, they often find it impossible to comprehend a path this is ultimately logical, and did I say fun? Think about it.


Question Mark... (March 2011)

Can I Avoid Falling Into A Rut?

Yes. Assuming that you are following the rule of only practicing something that you would actually play for someone, avoiding ruts comes down to achieving proper balance between basic review material and new projects. The most common rut is when you only practice what you already know, so even if the quality of what you are reviewing is high, there's nothing new on the horizon to inspire you and add to your repertoire. The less common rut is when you are intrigued by learning new things without taking the time required to internalize what you've learned. Aim for balance to avoid ruts.


Question Mark... (February 2011)

What's the Best Lick Book?

That's an easy one. The best lick book is the one that you are going to write, if you haven't done so already. The best players are those who develop a personal voice and language vocabulary that represents who they are. You can use a wide variety of sources, like transcriptions, lessons, books, and so on, but the idea is to make personal decisions based on what you like most from each of those sources, then compile the licks for daily review. You can organize your book in any way that efficiently gets the language under your fingertips. I've done this for decades. Trust me, it works.


Question Mark... (January 2011)

How Good Can A Player Get?

I've learned from personal experience that the sky's the limit when it comes to how good you can become, but there are some essential factors plus a few myths to dispel. First of all, practice does not make perfect unless you are practicing the right thing, so focus on finding the correct path. Second, natural talent means nothing. A willingness to work is far more important, but even more critical is what you choose to work on. Finally, a player with the right path combined with the willingness to work can make more progress in 30 minutes a day than many who are studying 5-6 hours a day. Think about it.


Question Mark... (December 2010)

What About "Funky" Blues?

My fascination with the funky side of blues dates way back to the first time I ever heard George Benson's "Giblet Gravy" in the late sixties. I've always been attracted to creative phrasing and using syncopated rhythmic devices, and that blues solo had it all in spades. From that point on I've had a personal quest to excel in that style of blues, which has led to numerous original compositions and recorded solos that have served to capture my progress. What I enjoy most is blending the percussive aspects of guitar, gleaned from players like GB, with saxy blues licks and just a touch of jazz.


Question Mark... (November 2010)

Any Thoughts On Fast Tempos?

A fast tempo, at least in jazz, is generally anything at or above 200 beats per minute for the average player. Once you hit the 250 to 300 bpm plateau or beyond, you get into very fast territory. While you should always make a point of playing something slowly and confidently before accelerating the speed, the reality is that there are things that you can execute slowly that will fail at faster tempos if you don't discover the most optimum way of fingering or picking a given melody or lick. Therefore, at some point you have to attempt the faster tempo in order to make those discoveries, so experiment!


Question Mark... (October 2010)

Define the Ideal Practice Schedule?

The perfect study routine is obviously the one that works best for you and your goals. That sounds simple, but achieving it is another story altogether. I would recommend setting aside time on a regular basis to assess and re-assess personal goals and your priorities, because they tend to change. Therefore your schedule should be flexible enough to change with them. Be organized and write out what you feel would be an efficient division of your daily time, then follow up on that plan for a week or two before evaluating both your progress and happiness. Then adjust. That's what worked for me.


Question Mark... (September 2010)

What Is Your "Train Station" Analogy?

Even if you have a mountain of dedication and a willingness to work, it's all a waste of time if you're missing the "path" itself. I often like to compare this to being a traveler entering a train station with a destination in mind, then being given false advice and a ticket to board the wrong train. You can believe deep in your heart that you're going to get there, and you can travel (practice) 5-6 hours a day, but the sad truth is that you will never reach your destination and goal if you are on the wrong train. Finding the right one is the real ticket. Think about it.


Question Mark... (August 2010)

How Should I Study II-V Licks?

Having a language vocabulary of solid II-V licks is critical to a jazz player's ability to improvise over changes. As you accumulate them, organize the licks according to the starting point related to the II chord, or Dm7 in the key of C. In other words, licks beginning on D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. Then review them, beginning in the lowest possible playing position and exploring fingerings as you move up the neck. Switch keys and repeat the procdure from low to high, until you achieve a thorough command of the licks and potential fingerings. Finally, use the licks to build "model" solos and promote application.


Question Mark... (July 2010)

Acoustic vs Electric Practice Advice?

One of the biggest challenges fo me throughout my career has been to balance daily study efforts between the acoustic and electric guitar. Both are critically important to me, for different reasons. When it comes to arranging for solo guitar or anything involving fingerstyle work, I use an acoustic cutaway nylon-string. For blues, jazz, and anything related to those melodies, licks, and improvisation, I use an electric archtop. The way that I stay on top of my overall game is to divide my time right down the middle, so for every fifteen minutes I practice acoustic guitar, I devote equal time to the electric. Try it.


Question Mark... (June 2010)

How Important Are Double-Stops?

This is a subjective question, but to me any time that you play two notes at once in a melody or solo you increase the dynamic potential by accessing the percussive quality of the guitar. This is especially true with blues but also with almost any other genre of music The most common double-stops involve thirds and sixths, but also fourths and fifths. For that matter, even octaves can fall into the same category, since adding the same note in the upper or lower register creates a double-stop based on unisons. Advice? Make a concerted effort to bring this powerful tool into your vocabulary.


Question Mark... (May 2010)

The Best Jazz Guitar Tone?

Achieving a warm, robust tone is something most guitarists seek, regardless of genre. For as long as I can recall, I've received great compliments regarding my sound, and I attribute a lot of the positives to my lifelong affinity for the tone associated with legendary jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. It was exposure to KB's recordings and live performances in the 60's and early 70's that drove me to pick up my Gibson Super 400 and Fender Twin Reverb amplifier. I've had many amps since those days, but have played the same archtop guitar for about 40 years. For me, when it comes to tone, KB broke the mold!


Question Mark... (April 2010)

Do You Collect Guitars & Basses?

Contrary to what many might think, I've never been much of a traditional guitar or bass collector. This isn't to say that the idea doesn't appeal to me, and over the years I have acquired a few instruments. However, I'm very conservative when it comes to only owning something that I will frequently play and not just hang on a wall. My two archtops are a 1970 Gibson Super 400 and a first-year Ibanez GB10. Acoustics are a 1970 Paulino Bernabe handmade classical and a recent Pavan cutaway nylon-string. I do own three basses, but primarily play a 20-year-old Padulla fretted 4-string.


Question Mark... (March 2010)

Best Device for Video Recording?

>Although any decent camcorder will suffice for recording music performances, rehearsals, personal practice, lessons, etc, the quality of the audio is often overlooked in favor of the video. With that in mind, I am very pleased with my new Zoom Q3. THe video quality is excellent, especially for use on the web, and there are plenty of neat bells and whisteles, but the audio is what separates it from the rest of the pack. Very small and convenient, operates on two AA batteries, records to standard SD cards, and even has a built-in USB connector for easily transferring video to your computer. Highly recommended.


Question Mark... (February 2010)

Any Mail-Order Music Advice?

Nowadays so many of our purchases are made online, including music sales. With perhaps the exception of buying an instrument and ideally being able to hold and play it first, almost anything else is fair game. Over the years I've done business with Musician's Friend, American Music Supply, and others. No complaints at all, but today my hands-down favorite is Sweetwater. Great, competitive pricing, terrific customer service, and free shipping on almost anything in their huge catalog. They really give you the feeling that you are personally connected with their sales staff. Check them out.


Question Mark... (January 2010)

What About "Fours" In Jazz?

The term "fours" refers to something that frequently takes place in a jazz ensemble performance. After each player has improvised, the players will often take turns soloing for four bars at a time, creating a call & response dialogue between band members. For guitarists and bassists it's both exciting and challenging, because after you've played a four-bar solo you have to instantly move back into the rhythm section role, so you really need to be on your toes and focus on where you are in the progression. It's great for practice, too. Try experimenting with a swing blues to get comfortable playing fours.


Question Mark... (December 2009)

How Important Is "Swing" Blues?

In my opinion, mastering swing blues is the ultimate way to learn how to play over jazz changes. The fundamental progression and its variations contain most of the essential harmonic situations that relate to other tunes. Rather than being overwhelmed with a mountain of standards to learn and making a major jazz commitment, it allows the aspiring improviser to focus simply on commanding one vehicle while acquiring the necessary tools to take it to a higher level. Even if you don't have designs on being a great jazz player, the reality is that you'll be a far superior and more interesting blues player as a result.


Question Mark... (November 2009)

What's the Best Way to Apply Licks?

Learning the language of blues, jazz, and other styles through tried-and-true licks is a very important part of becoming a superior improviser, but it's only the first step. Many players fall into the trap of reviewing their licks during practice, but being unable to access them during a solo. This is a common problem that can easily be remedied through two additional steps. One is by "dry improvising," which is accomplished by playing rhythm on a progression, then stopping to insert a given lick while maintaining the flow. The other is by arranging "model solos" to apply the licks in context.


Question Mark... (October 2009)

Which Classical Guitar to Buy?

I do almost all of my contemporary arranging and recording using a nylon-string cutaway classical guitar. For years I had been seeking a high-quality instrument with all of the amenities of an expensive handmade at an affordable price, for personal use and to recommend to my students. Then I discovered Pavan Guitars, an excellent line of instruments imported from Spain by Tom Prisloe, a fine player and luthier. Ebony fingerboard, solid workmanship, great tone, and under a thousand dollars. Everything I've recorded since then has been with my TP-20-AC, which I play almost every day. Recommended.


Question Mark... (September 2009)

Where Do You Keep Your Pick?

Many years ago I was watching a local jazz guitarist perform, and was amazed by how all of a sudden his flatpick would just seem to magically appear, seemingly out of nowhere. He'd be playing guitar fingerstyle or using his thumb a la Wes, then instantly shift to the pick for solo passages. Upon further observation, I noticed that he was hiding the pick in the first joint of his right-hand index finger, yet having it lodged there wasn't impeding anything he was doing with his fingers and thumb. That's when I decided to emulate him. It's a great and practical way to achieve technical flexibility. Give it a try.


Question Mark... (August 2009)

What Is "Dry" Improvisation?

"Dry" (vs "wet") improvisation is the practice of applying your acquired licks and concepts to a given progression minus ensemble accompaniment, either live or otherwise. Basically you play rhythm and then isolate any particular measure or series of measures to try out your ideas, eventually while maintaining the time flow. This gives you the opportunity to stop the band (i.e. you) and to experiment, a luxury that you don't have when accompaniment is present. By doing this on a regular basis you'll be able to bring core language elements into your spontaneous work. Believe me, it works.


Question Mark... (July 2009)

Tips for Jazz Turnaround Progressions?

As stated before, there are two formulas when it comes to turnarounds associated with jazz music and related standards. Most important is the turnaround that resolves to the I chord, typically a I-VI-II-V, like Cmaj7, A7, Dm7, G7, plus numerous substitutions, alterations, and extensions. The other formula is the one that resolves to the II chord, such as a I-II-III-VI, or Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, A7. Both are excellent for applying core jazz language in improvised solos, as well as vehicles for chord-melody arranging projects that can be effectively used in solo guitar arrangements and for ensemble accompaniment.


Question Mark... (June 2009)

Good Source for Jazz Bass Lines?

While there are a number of books containing transcribed bass lines on the market, regardless of genre the best method fo me has always been to go right to the original recordings, then learn the parts by ear. Most pop, rock, traditional blues and latin bass lines are fairly easy to pick up. Th exceptions are highly-syncopated funk and jazz walking lines, the former due to the techniques involved and the latter because of the harmony itself. For jazz I recommend using the Jamey Aebersold series, because you can easily isolate and hear the bass parts, from Ron Carter to Sam Jones and others like them.


Question Mark... (May 2009)

Any Lick Application Advice?

As most of my students and fans know, I'm big on language as opposed to scales when it comes to improvising and composing. However, just because you've learned some great blues and jazz licks doesn't mean that there isn't more work to do. Getting them into your playing where they become part of your automatic pilot and second nature is the goal. Besides simply jamming and making a conscious effort to work on specific licks, I've found that both writing model solos and using the language as a basis for melodies in my original tunes are terrific ways to apply them. Give it a shot.


Question Mark... (April 2009)

Should I Play Classical Guitar?

Even dabbling in the world of classical music on guitar can be a great and highly-rewarding experience for you. My early desire and goals in that genre were two-fold. First of all, the idea of playing music that spanned centuries of expression had both an artistic and spiritual appeal to me, in a sense bringing me in touch with music history and what composers and listeners were experiencing years ago. Second, the idea of achieving technical ability that would help my contemporary playing intrigued me. You don't have to make a full-blown commitment to benefit from the pursuit. Highly recommended.


Question Mark... (March 2009)

What About Minor Superimposition?

As complicated as it might sound, superimposing minor ideas in solos or as an effective composing device is something that I always consider. It was never a subject that I studied in school or out of some theory book, but simply through observing what I learned from transcribing my mentors, like Benson, Martino, and others. There are many possible combinations, like D minor ideas superimposed over a G7, Bm7b5, E7alt, or Fmaj7. The result is that one good lick can create a differenct color depending on the harmony. Another is to use simple E minor pentatonic ideas over a Cmaj7. Experiment!


Question Mark... (February 2009)

Any "Set List" Suggestions?

Creating set lists are not only an important part of organizing a band or solo guitar performance, especially with a target audience in mind, but they can also be a very useful when it comes to reviewing your general repertoire. You can choose to mirror what you would do as an entertainer, mixing compositions, tempos and keys, or you can opt to group your material by composer, genre, or time period for study and potential medleys. With either approach, a smart idea is to put a time constraint on your set lists, with a maximum of forty-five minutes in length in order to simulate a "real-world'" gig scenario.


Question Mark... (January 2009)

Tips for Artistic Exposure?

No matter what your level of music ability happens to be, if you really want to gain some exposure and get ahead, the only way is to aggressively promote yourself. What you're looking for could range from a rehearsal band, a teacher, a solo guitar gig, a jam session, a record deal, etc, etc. The bottom line is that regardless of what you seek, you can't rely on opportunity to come knocking at your door, whether we're talking music or any other field. "If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?" is the question, so do everything you possibly can to make sure that the right people hear all about you.


Question Mark... (December 2008)

What Is Technical Mastery?

Contrary to what some believe, technical mastery in music has almost nothing to do with sheer speed or physical strength, because those traits are utterly meaningless by themselves. What good is it if you can play fast yet have little to say? This is all too often the case with many players, especially guitarists. True technical mastery is when an artist achieves a balance in being able to communicate by effectively executing what they hear, regardless of complexity. In that sense, B.B. King, often thought of as a simple player, is just as much a master technician as someone like George Benson.


Question Mark... (November 2008)

Quickest Path to Jazz Success?

I still firmly believe that the road to jazz changes starts with swing blues, and my soloing ability is a strong testament to the fact that it works. While traditional blues expertise is also relevant, it's the harmonic formulas associated with the swing 12-bar vehicle that lay the basic groundwork for improvising over classic standards. Those formulas include long and short two-five sequences plus turnaround progressions. Jazz improvisation can be daunting, but isolating this style of blues greatly simplified the goal for me, and as my swing blues playing evolved, so did my ability to handle mainstream jazz.


Question Mark... (October 2008)

What Should I Be Arranging?

First of all, in my book it goes without saying that you should be arranging anything on a consistent basis, even if only ten or fifteen minutes per day. As I've said many times, the very process alone assures continueal growth with regards to creatively using what you've learned. I would suggest arranging popular standards for solo guitar in chord-melody fashion, spanning a wide variety of styles that reflect who you are, plus intros, endings, accompaniments, bass lines, model blues, and jazz solos, and so on. Arranging can (and should) be a huge part of your evolution as a musician.


Question Mark... (September 2008)

Most Important Music Tool?

The case can always be made for possessing as many musical tools as possible, including technical skill, sight-reading ability, and theoretical knowledge. That being said, in my book having a superior ear easily trumps everything else, because all that really counts to a player, composer, arranger, or listener is how something sounds. If you've developed a great ear by listening to and transcribing great music, then what you hear will take on the same level of quality. The rest may be good to have, but when you're considering top priorities and how to invest precious study time, put your ear first!


Question Mark... (August 2008)

Personal Repertoire Advice?

What you inevitably choose to perform for others is a subjective issue, but I do have three suggestions. The first is to make whatever you play reflective of what you would like to hear as a listener, and ideally as varied as possible, so mix up the genres as much as you like. Second is to aim for a large repertoire, because the more tunes you learn the greater the depth of your knowledge. Finally, I would recommend having a special collection of "money" material that truly represents your best work, and review it on a regular basis. That way you are always prepared to deliver the goods.


Question Mark... (July 2008)

Any Right-Hand Thumb Tips?

Beyond the basic use of the right-hand thumb in classical and fingerstyle guitar music, using it effectively in blues or jazz a la Wes Montgomery is another issue altogether. For solos, you have to find alternative and effective left-hand methods involving slurs to facilitate the use of the thumb. This is how you achieve the speed associated with picking down and up, but in the long run the process improves your left-hand and overall articulation. Try playing some of your favorite licks exclusively with your thumb. Experiment until you find a way of playing them with conviction. Wes did it. So can you!


Question Mark... (June 2008)

How About Sax On Guitar?

I've written many times in the past about the value of transcribing and learning from non-guitarists. While the language itself may be in the same ball park, translating it to the fingerboard forces you to do things you normally wouldn't do in order to match the phrasing. For me, this has been especially true when it comes to sax, where even the simplest pentatonic blues figures can require a totally different approach. My biggest sax influences over the years have been Parker, Trane, and Tom Scott, but there are many others. I often like to call myself "A saxophonist trapped inside a guitar player's body."


Question Mark... (May 2008)

Any Arranging Suggestions?

Well, there are just too many to list specifically, but I can give you some solid general tips. For starters and on the chord-melody front, arrange any pop, jazz, or latin standard for solo guitar. There are countless titles to choose from, and you'll build song vocabulary at the same time. You can also arrange intros and endings for solo guitar and/or ensemble work. Try arranging model blues and jazz solos in single-note, octave, and upper-string chord formats. Then there's always the possibility of arranging accompaniments, from basic to chords with walking bass lines. Try to arrange every day.


Question Mark... (April 2008)

Key-Oriented vs Changes?

Regardless of genre, when improvising there are almost always two distinct approaches, key-oriented and changes-oriented. The goal should be to become adept at either soloing approach, and with the understanding that the methods can be mixed to any degree on the fly once you have the core language under your belt. Most of my past mentors were able to seamlessly blend these elements, and were also rich in using major blues as the basis for key-oriented playing, a concept that still eludes many players and students who base their thinking on scales instead of powerful core language.


Question Mark... (March 2008)

Why Audio Over Video?

Despite the rising emphasis on video as the ultimate learning tool for guitar education, the reality is that intense listening is still the best way to learn, and that time-proven method accounts for 99% or more of what I play and teach related to jazz and blues improvisation. Although the guitar is most certainly a visual instrument and it's nice to have that aid as an option, many students nowadays rely on it heavily and become too lazy to use their ear and imagination. Most great players, regardless of instrument, learned the language by ear. Remember that you don't have to see an artist to learn from them.


Question Mark... (February 2008)

Any New Amp Suggestions?

Several years ago I discussed good amplifiers for jazz based on my past experience, and cited Fenders, Rolands, and Polytones. Since then I've picked up an Acoustic Image top with a Raezer's Edge bottom, a combination that has been very popular among jazz guitarists for several years now. While I'm quite pleased with the sound, I've also been impressed lately with the new series of JazzKat amps. Small size for their basic model, which is an attractive feature to me, and amazing warmth from just an eight-inch speaker. Check one out if you get the opportunity. I think you'll like it.


Question Mark... (January 2008)

The Ultimate "One-Two" Punch?

To me, the ultimate one-two punch is when the soulful feeling and phrasing emanating from the blues is skillfully blended with the more melodic elements of jazz language. How much of one vs the other is a personal call, but in my book players like George Benson and the recently departed Oscar Peterson are about as good as it gets with regards to eliciting those "Yeah, man!" moments when you hear their work, and therefore that's what I continually strive for as a player and composer. The blues crosses all genres and resonates with the vast majority of listeners, so I go to that card as often as possible.


Question Mark... (December 2007)

Favorite Recording Software?

I've easily received more compliments regarding my recordings during the past couple of years than at any point in my career, but ironically I've used the simplest and most affordable program ever, Apple's "Garage Band." The epitome of "plug 'n play" with just one USB cable and a high fun factor without scratching your head over manuals and configurations, I can't say enough great things about it. Of course, the proof in recording is how everything sounds to the listener, and that gets right back to the volume of praise and kind words from my pro colleagues, students, and fans. Recommended!


Question Mark... (November 2007)

Advantages of "Sound" Thinking?

As a music composer, improviser, educator, and student, I base everything I do nowadays on sounds. It's an all-encompassing point of view that succeeds in keeping things as simple and effective as possible. It also makes great sense, because in the end the listener relates mainly to the sound of what they're hearing. First I classify sounds relative to the three primary chord groups: major, minor, and dominant. Each group contains three additional sound personalities: inside (melodic), outside (dissonant), and blues. Every melody, lick, solo, bass line, scale, mode, etc, is covered by "sound" thinking.


Question Mark... (October 2007)

When Do You Play At Your Best?

There are many factors that determine when we are playing at our optimum level. Obviously, experience, preparation, and the ability to focus and concentrate are key elements, regardless of what we are attempting to play. However, how you resonate with whatever you choose to perform or record is just as significant. As an example, I'm usually at the top of my game when I'm playing something that I've composed, because there's a deeply personal and emotional inner connection with the music itself. In that context I feel as though I was destined to be the main messenger, which brings out the best in me.


Question Mark... (September 2007)

What Is "True" Credibility?

Credibility is an issue everywhere you turn nowadays, and not just in the music field. How can you actually believe what you read or hear, even if it's from a supposedly credible source? Well, the answer is that you really have to think for yourself and consider that source, because it's so easy to just parrot the opinions and thoughts of others. Even if a player or teacher has great reviews, a record or endorsement deal, glossy-covered books in print, videos on the market or degrees hanging on the wall, it's all meaningless if they can't back up the talk when it comes to their genuine skill as an artist.


Question Mark... (August 2007)

The Value In "Personal" Transcribing?

While it's great to study from a teacher or author who has already done the transcribing work for you, there's absolutely no question in my mind that doing it yourself is the optimum path. Remember that it's not just about licks and solos, but all of the subtle nuances that stem from playing along with your chosen mentors. Your touch, your phrasing, and the way you just squeeze a note are all things that often defy description on paper. And last but not least, you'll get far more out of what others have transcribed if you have a superior ear, and that comes directly from doing it yourself. Trust me.


Question Mark... (July 2007)

What Is Your Primary Goal?

General question, but for me the answer is simple. My primary goal as a player, composer, and educator is to emotionally connect with listeners and to inspire anyone I meet, ideally moving them to a higher place. It's not a "mind thing" whatsoever, but something that they can relate to and feel. This is one of the main reasons why the blues lies at the very core of what I appreciate in others and what I am driven to do as an artist, because I feel the same need to be moved emotionally. I see inspiration as a two-way street.


Question Mark... (June 2007)

Does the "Major Blues Scale" Exist?

No. Whenever I refer to major blues terminology, and especially with a new student, it is often misconstrued as a scale reference. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no scale or mode that I know of that explains the essence of the major blues "sound." The basic definition consists of motion between the minor and major thirds (Eb to E in the key of C), and no sevenths. Anything else is legal, therefore any attempt to define it in scale terms falls short. It's one of the most powerful, flexible sounds, yet it still eludes many players.


Question Mark... (May 2007)

How Many Licks Should I Know?

As many as possible, because once you can play with any degree of feeling and intensity, the only thing left is how broad a speaking vocabulary you have under your belt. Make sure that any licks you learn are of the highest quality with every note counting and no fluff, because they will then become your future seeds of creativity and spawn countless variations related to the original statement. For me, after the quality was firmly established it became a numbers game with regards to learning brand new licks or creating strong derivatives. Conclusion? You can never have enough licks!


Question Mark... (April 2007)

Does Practice Always Make Perfect?

Sorry to pop anyone's bubble, but definitely not. While it's fine to walk around saying "Practice makes perfect" in a general sense, the reality is that what you are doing with your time is absolutely critical to reaching your goals, and therefore the most important issue. Only when you've achieved optimum quality in practice can you expect to see perfection. I'll even go so far as to say that if you are on the wrong path, every hour that you study can be like taking a step backwards. That's why one person who practices 30 minutes a day can progress more than another practicing 4 hours a day.


Question Mark... (March 2007)

How Do You Evaluate A Player?

There are three essential traits that I look for in any musician. First and foremost is feeling, usually stemming from a genuine affinity for the blues. I have to be emotionally moved to even get interested. Next up is the intensity of that feeling. All of my favorite artists and influences, regardless of genre, are capable of making a powerful statement with just one or two notes, and that takes a high level of passion and conviction. Harmonic and rhythmic creativity are third on the list, and when the imagination well is deep and combined with the first two ingredients, you have true mastery. The full package.


Question Mark... (February 2007)

Greatest Strength As A Musician?

Despite the fact that I don't subscribe to natural talent per se,we each have inherent strengths that represent untapped potential if we recognize them and labor hard to achieve our goals. As for me, I've always had a knack or "vision" for seeing how things can creatively work together, whether it be in a literary article, composing a tune, or taking a solo. However, it wasn't until I had spent years and years paying dues to acquire valuable knowledge stemming from real world language that I had anything memorable to write or to play. So I still maintain that your greatest strength comes down to your work ethic.


Question Mark... (January 2007)

What About Personal Expectations?

This is a fascinating subject to me, both as an evolving artist and as a music coach who is constantly observing the psychological forces that can drive or hold back a student's progress. It's amazing how much we can stop ourselves with self-imposed hurdles based upon unrealistic personal expectations, or those of our friends, family members, teachers, bandmates, and so on. As you assess your present ability and look ahead with regards to achieving goals, my best advice is to simply ask yourself if you've done everything you can in giving your best effort today? That's all you can really expect.


Question Mark... (December 2006)

Are Chord Grids Still Useful?

Long before tablature became the mainstay for guitar notation, chord grids were used in abundance. I'm not referring to the generic variety found in most piano/vocal/guitar songbooks, but the custom symbols that provide a visual aid for guitarists. To me, they remain as valuable as they were years ago, when I created all of my solo guitar arrangements using them. In fact, they are often superior to tab when it comes to creative possibilities. Tablature forces the arranger or author into suggesting that you always do things one way, but the grid approach keeps things more open-ended on the artistic front.


Question Mark... (November 2006)

What About "Fusion" In Jazz?

The very definition of jazz music is highly subjective. Some will vehemently argue that almost anything can qualify as a legitimate part of the genre. Others, myself included, feel that you have to be grounded in traditional language roots before attempting to stretch the creative envelope. After all, how you can you expand on something that you don't possess in the first place? While my favorite players and mentors certainly fit the latter category, the case can be made that jazz has always been a fusing of different elements. But as far as I'm concerned, "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!"


Question Mark... (October 2006)

Who's Carrying the Wes Torch?

When it comes to jazz guitarists who are obvious disciples of the great Wes Montgomery, two guitarists spring to mind for me. One is George Benson, a player whom many consider the heir apparent to the Montgomery throne, and a major influence on me. The other is his very good friend from Chicago, Henry Johnson. Both have a solid blues background and exhibit the traits associated with Wes, especially with regards to the use of octaves and chord solos. However, If I had to choose just one of them based on present jazz recordings and performances, my nod would have to go to HJ.


Question Mark... (September 2006)

Most Important Jazz Turnaround?

First of all, and in case your not certain about the terminology, a "turnaround" in a jazz progression is generally a series of four chords that occur at the end of a verse. Since most tunes begin on a I chord (C in the key of C), it's usually referred to as a "Turnaround to One." An exception would be a tune that begins on the II chord (e.g. Dm7 in the key of C). The most common formula is the I-VI-II-V, typically Cmaj7, A7, Dm7, and G7. However, there are numerous possibilities when it comes to chord personalities, alterations, and substitutions for the primary chords in the turnaround, so observe and experiment.


Question Mark... (August 2006)

How Often Should I Record?

Recording yourself is one of the most important things you can do as an evolving player, and it's a critical member of what I consider the three most important musical pursuits: Arranging, Recording, and Transcribing (A.R.T.). Most players, myself included, are guilty of not recording as much as they should, for any number of reasons. But make no mistake about it. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by recording on a frequent basis. So how often? I'd say at least once a week, although like arranging and transcribing, there's much to be gained by recording for even a few minutes every day.


Question Mark... (July 2006)

What Should I Play for Someone?

This is a deceptively simple question, but one that truly bears a lot of thought. Even if you're not on stage with a set agenda and list of tunes, at some point you will be in a position to show someone what you can play, and how well you perform will say a great deal about how others perceive your ability. Obviously this means that your choice should be something meaningful to both you and to your audience. My advice, especially if you know quite a few tunes, is to always have a few of your favorites ready to play regardless of the situation. That way there's no indecision, just a solid performance.


Question Mark... (June 2006)

Can You Ever "Copy" Too Much?

Definitely not! Oh, you want more? Sure thing. Despite the myths typically perpetuated by educators and those who can talk but can't play, history clearly proves that those who obsessively copied their mentors achieved the highest level of creative originality. In jazz it was BIrd, Wes, Benson, Corea, etc. In rock it was Hendrix, Clapton, SRV, and so on. The truth of the matter is that the language itself doesn't belong to any one artist, so we borrow it and use it in our own way when we improvise and compose. Therefore you can't copy too much, because you can never have enough language.


Question Mark... (May 2006)

How About Quality vs Quantity?

This is a subject that I talk about frequently, especially when I start working with a new student. The first goal should always be to establish a very high level of quality, both regards to what you are learning and how you spend your precious study time. Once that is established, quantity takes on a powerful role in how you set your goals, because you can't get enough of a good thing. However, if you don't achieve the quality first, then it's like eating bad food and compounding it by eating more of the same. Get my point? Quality practice allows you to accomplish far more in far less time.


Question Mark... (April 2006)

Favorite Fingerstyle Guitarist?

There have been many fine fingerstyle guitarists I've admired over the years, but when it comes to virtuosity mixed with an eclectic background and a charismatic sense of humor that won't quit, I have to go with Australia's Tommy Emmanuel. An obvious disciple of the Atkins school of playing, TE is more like Chet on steroids, as what he does in performance transcends the instrument itself. And what he does percussively on the instrument is simply second to none. Check out his "Live At Sheldon Hall" DVD and prepare to become a believer as well as his next fan. An amazing artist, period.


Question Mark... (March 2006)

Transcribing vs Learning by Ear?

Despite the fact that transcribing often conjures up the image of a musician writing out solos or licks from a recording, I prefer a broader definition. To me and many of my respected colleagues, transcribing is learning music by ear, in the spirit of Wes, George Benson, Charlie Parker, B.B. King, and countless others. The main goal is to imitate influences and assimilate the language, so whether it is written in standard notation or not is an artistic option. Of course, being an educator and someone fascinated by phrasing and rhythm, I do document what I learn. I highly recommend that you do, too.


Question Mark... (February 2006)

Any Chord-Melody Arranging Tips?

First of all, if you're not arranging music for guitar on a daily basis, you're missing out on one of the most critically-important areas when it comes to improving your ability, vocabulary, ear, and knowledge of theory. Start with any tune you like, but ballads are ideal. Find the vocal melody on the upper two strings and build the proper chord, using any songbook or fakebook as a guide, making sure that the melody is the highest note. Aim for chords with a root bass, on beats one and three, adding single-note melodies in between. There are no hard and fast rules. If it sounds good, you're doing the right thing.


Question Mark... (January 2006)

Best Tuner for Archtop Guitars?

I've bought more than my share of tuners over the years, but I recent purchased the Intellitouch PT1 contact tuner from Onboard Research Corporation, and it is hands down the best unit I've ever used for tuning archtop guitars. Like the Sabine AX-2000 that I use for my acoustic guitars, the PTI reads the surface vibration of the instrument, in this case by temporarily clamping onto the headstock. It's deadly accurate, with a large LCD readout that's backlit for night time or onstage use. Archtop guitars are traditionally temperamental when it comes to conventional tuners. The Intellitouch is the ticket.


Question Mark... (December 2005)

Favorite Christmas Guitar Recording?

There are many fine holiday guitar recordings I can cite, but my favorite will always be the classic "Have Yourself A Soulful Merry Christmas" by Kenny Burrell. Recorded originally in the mid-sixties on Cadet, it went out of print for many years, but became available once again on CD not too long ago. The feel on this release captures Kenny at his best, playing both acoustic and electric guitars, and doing traditionals as well as his smoking version of "My Favorite Things," or the classic slow blues, "Merry Christmas Baby," which indirectly influenced the version I just recorded. Highly recommended.


Question Mark... (November 2005)

Top Author for Guitar Books?

This is an easy one for me. Although I may be personally biased and my good friend is far too humble to accept the praise, I believe that Wolf Marshall is the greatest guitar author and historian of our time, hands down. When you consider the fact that his prolific output spans so many genres, including blues, rock, and jazz, then combine that with his great attention to accuracy and detail, not to mention his pure passion and obsession for preserving the legacy of artists and helping aspiring guitarists to evolve? Well, have I left anything out? Trust me, Wolf Marshall has worked hard to be the best. It shows.


Question Mark... (October 2005)

What About the II-V Progression?

Just as an understanding of the I-IV-V progression is essential for blues and popular music, it is critical for an aspiring jazz musician to master the II-V progression. It provides the doorway to improvising over changes, because it is found in so many swing blues, bebop, and standard tunes. It's not about scales and modes, and it's not about limiting yourself to just the II-V in any one given key, due to the many modulations and potential chord substitutions that exist in these styles. The knowledge of the language associated with II-Vs opens harmonic doors across other genres, too. Keep that in mind.


Question Mark... (September 2005)

Can Frustration Be Avoided?

Frustration is an inherent part of music evolution, due simply to the fact that there is a degree of challenge involved in facing our weak areas and reaching our goals. As one of my students recently reminded me, referring to something I had written long ago, you have to learn to love the frustration in order to grow. This means accepting the fact that success lies right around the corner whenever you feel a sense of frustration. That's when you have to really summon up the courage to work the hardest. The only frustration that can be avoided stems from being on the wrong path, with no success on the horizon.


Question Mark... (August 2005)

What Should I Transcribe?

This question assumes that you wish to learn something by ear, and perhaps attempt to write out what you've heard. First of all, give yourself a BIG pat on the back for making that decision in the first place, because the majority of players fail to understand how critical it is to transcribe. In my mind, once you've made that commitment, success is a foregone conclusion. You can transcribe anything you wish, because in essence you are like "a kid in a candy store" when it comes to the potential knowledge that awaits you. Learn some cool licks, melodies, bass lines, solos, etc. You can't lose. It's all good!


Question Mark... (July 2005)

Is Memorization All That Important?

Getting your repertoire into long-term memory is absolutely critical for a guitarist, in order to complete the learning process and possess something tangible to show for your work. The reason memorization is so essential from a performance standpoint should be obvious to anyone, because what are you going to do when someone asks you to play something for them? If you can't play what you know by heart, then you really don't know it, and can't truly put your heart and soul into the piece. Memorization comes easier to some than it does to others, but like anything else, you get better at it the more you try.


Question Mark... (June 2005)

How Critical Are Your Influences?

Since music is a language, and since you will be judged by how well you speak it, choosing the right influence is essential for you to make systematic progress towards that goal. Of course, the decision of whom to select is personal and subjective, so what is right for you isn't necessarily right for another. If there's anything that I remain ultimately grateful for, it's the fact that I chose my influences wisely, because the knowledge that they passed down to me is responsible for my success as a player and as a music coach. Sure, I had to do the work, but without their influence I'd have nothing to say.


Question Mark... (May 2005)

Do You Have "Bad" Music Days?

Everyone has bad days when it comes to music performance. Sometimes you can be distracted and have trouble concentrating. Perhaps your bio-rhythm is just off, but there can be any number of reasons why you're not "on your game" that particular day. What I can tell you is that the best players in the world have bad days, too. The difference is that they are so good that no one else notices. I can also promise you one thing. As you evolve and become a better player, your bad days will become better than your good days used to be, so my advice is to keep working as hard as you possibly can.


Question Mark... (April 2005)

What About "First Take" Recordings?

As much as I love the digital domain, and the ease with which you can create perfect recorded performances through seamless punches and editing, there's a lot to be said for traditional, first take recordings. I often compare the art of nailing a one-take recording with being an athlete, or perhaps an actor, who rises to the occasion to deliver a knockout performance. Of course, just as it was in the old days prior to all of this cool technology, you have to be well-rehearsed and "on your game" to really deliver a perfect take, but I relish that challenge, because it's a true indicator of your actual ability as a player.


Question Mark... (March 2005)

How Can I Achieve Harmonic Strength?

This has been a critical issue for me for most of my career. It stems from many years of transcribing great players, where looking for a single bad note is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. As I've said many a time, you become what you practice, and strength generates strength. Study and emulate players who are always saying something significant. Record yourself and listen objectively. Anything you hear that lacks harmonic power is something that you should strive to eliminate. If you simply don't hear anything strong at the moment, heed my late father's advice and "take a breath!"


Question Mark... (February 2005)

Suggestions Prior to Recording?

Yes, practice! This is the best piece of advice I can give anyone preparing to record. You really want to be on top of your game and showcase your acquired talent when you start to lay down tracks. Unfortunately, I haven't always heeded this advice, and am quite fortunate that my skill was good enough to get satisfactory results and impress others. However, there's little question that the greatest recordings are those reflective of players who are very familiar with their material, usually through many gigs and rehearsals. Be sure to give yourself some time to really nail your project before recording.


Question Mark... (January 2005)

How Many Lessons Should I Take?

This isn't an easy question to answer, because there are several factors involved. Does your instructor have a deep well of information to offer? Is the teacher effective in communicating it? Is it what you sincerely wish to learn? Do you have faith in the direction? Are you having fun? If you answer yes to all of the above, then a long stay is in order. If not, you owe it to yourself to consider other alternatives. The important thing is to look inside and to recognize when you've found the right coach. My best advice is to heavily weigh the criteria above in making a short or long-term decision regarding lessons.


Question Mark... (December 2004)

When Should I Write My First Song?

Right now! Or should I say "write" now? Seriously, you're never too young or too old to compose, and you don't need a degree in music to write a simple tune and express yourself. Truthfully, I wish that I had started before my mid-thirties. My late father, as I've often mentioned, didn't compose until his early fifties. On the other hand, our youngest daughter, Gina, is now composing originals at only 10-years-old. Lyrics and music, and although a father can tend to be a bit biased, I'm really impressed with her creativity. It's inspiring, and that's exactly how you'll feel if you do likewise. Trust me.


Question Mark... (November 2004)

Should I Take My Guitar On Vacation?

For many players, this is a relatively easy question to answer. Most of my students have day jobs, so even though studying an instrument requires significant effort, the relaxation aspect of music is a factor that weighs heavily in a decision to include your instrument in your travel plans. Now, whether you would actually practice or not is another issue, because you may just want to play some nice music during your getaway. My situation is understandably different, due to the fact that I am surrounded by music and the guitar around the clock, so getting away from it during vacation recharges my batteries.


Question Mark... (October 2004)

Thoughts On Teaching Beginners?

Regardless of whether you make your living teaching music or not, if you can play guitar, at some point you will be in a position to teach someone something that you know. If that person is in their first year or a total beginner, my attitude is identical to that of working with an intermediate or an advanced musician. The mission is simply to inspire the student with a direction that hinges on having fun while learning. It doesn't make one bit of difference how young or old the student happens to be, or how much experience they may or may not possess. It's all about fun and inspiration. Nothing else matters.


Question Mark... (September 2004)

First Step In Composing?

Recently a student asked me some questions about composing music, specifically how I begin creating a new original. Nine times out of ten I start with a chord progression, or even a single chord, which can lead to the progression itself. The melody comes after the fact for me. I almost consider the melody a simple, improvised solo, in which case there are countless possibilities. The chord progression needs to be rock solid, establishing the tune's foundation. You can also consider using an existing, proven chord progression, just waiting for an original melody or a bass line. At least that's what works for me.


Question Mark... (August 2004)

Acoustic or Electric Guitar?

I am frequently asked whether I recommend an acoustic or electric instrument for beginning guitarists, or for that matter which I prefer to play. This is a very tough question for me, because there are strong advantages to each type of guitar, and I'd hate to have to decide between the two of them. Acoustic obviously wins for portability and the fact that you don't need an amplifier, while electric is the obvious choice for any kind of ensemble playing when volume is an issue. It also depends on technique and genre. I prefer acoustic for fingerstyle work, classical, latin, etc. I prefer electric for jazz & blues. Play both!


Question Mark... (July 2004)

How Many Left-Hand Fingers?

I've always found the topic of how many fingers used by various guitarists a fascinating one. We can cite a player like Django who, due to physical limitations, only used two fingers for single-line work. Jose Feliciano is another artist cut from that cloth. Rock and blues guitarists have always been noted for ignoring their fourth (baby) finger, yet that's also true of jazz guitarists like Wes Montgomery and George Benson. Of course, classical players use all four fingers. Sometimes I will purposely improvise with one finger alone, just to illustrate the value of phrasing. Conclusion? Use whatever it takes.


Question Mark... (June 2004)

How Loud Should I Play?

While loud volume is comonly associated with rock and blues guitar, it is a subject worth discussing. When it comes to guitar and bass in those genres, the goal is typically to make the instrument sustain and achieve power, which is understandable, given the overall volume of a band in a large concert or club setting. The only concern and advice I have deals with dynamics, because if you play loud all of the time, you lose the balance and impact of playing softly. I've always maintained that you should be able to move a listener with the barest volume possible. Aim for a broad range of dynamics.


Question Mark... (May 2004)

Tips for Improving "Position" Skill?

Whether you subscribe to the school of shifting versus position playing with regards to your fretting hand, it's important to become familiar with every area on the fingerboard. "Position Prison" is a method that I've used successfully in the past, strictly as a means to an end. For instance, if you're confident improvising in the traditional bar position (8th fret in the key of C), deliberately put yourself in the 5th position for a week or longer, until you can play as good a solo as you can in the stronger position. Then try another position, like the 10th, for a week. Eventually you'll have all bases covered.


Question Mark... (April 2004)

Should Every Note Mean Something?

Definitely. Whether something is "meaningful" or not may be a subjective issue, but my goal as a player, composer, and arranger, is to make sure that every single note carries significant weight. Otherwise, I'd prefer to follow in my father's footsteps and "take a breath" instead, as any good horn player does. This goal may seem far-fetched, but I've long believed that strength generates strength. If you choose your influences wisely, and if they are "on the money" 99% of the time, logic dictates that you will carry that same torch. Remember that you'll always be a reflection of your influences.


Question Mark... (March 2004)

Does "Non-Physical" Practice Count?

Many players, myself included in years past, often fall into a mental trap when it comes to what defines real practice, thinking that the only thing that really counts is whether you're actively playing your instrument during study or not. This is a huge mistake, because some of the most creative pursuits, such as arranging, composing, and transcribing, have little to do with a physical workout, yet yield results that cannot be attained without steady attention to these all-important areas. I learned long ago to treasure the non-physical side of playing. In the long run, you simply become a superior musician.


Question Mark... (February 2004)

How Can I Improve My Phrasing?

I consider phrasing one of the most critically important ingredients, an essential trait that separates great players from marginal players. The best way to generate improvement in this area is to carefully choose your influences according to the way that they phrase, then transcribe and imitate them as much as possible. All of my primary mentors, both as improvisers and composers, have a great deal of rhythmic imagination, and I've always been fascinated by the subtle timing factors with each artist I've studied. Analyzing the time really helps to better understand your own phrasing, so keep that in mind.


Question Mark... (January 2004)

What Style of Music Should I Learn?

Frequently I hear the comment, "If I could play (fill in the genre, but usually jazz or classical), then I could play anything." This is a real misnomer, because in truth the best style for each of us is the style that we wish to play. While it may be true that everything can be viewed as a "means to an end," there's ample evidence that being able to play one style doesn't automatically guarantee skill in another style. As a matter of fact, classical musicians are often very weak as improvisers, and it's rare to find a jazz player who is truly competent at handling rock 'n roll. Your heart has to be in it to achieve success.


Question Mark... (December 2003)

Who Makes the Best Strings?

This is a highly subjective question, because there are numerous string manufacturers, and artists differ when it comes to what they prefer in a guitar or a bass string. Those who know me are always asking about those strange, black strings on my archtop guitar. Well, years ago I fell in love with tapewound strings, and continue to use La Bella 800s. They have a great sound overall, are more pliable than conventional flatwound strings, and have unmatched longevity. I also recommend Thomastik-Infelds for jazz, and still find D'Addarios to be dependable for both nylon-string guitar and electric bass.


Question Mark... (November 2003)

How About Playing In All Keys?

Much has been made of the necessity, especially in jazz music, to be able to play a song in as many keys as possible. I disagree with that philosophy. Theoretically it sounds impressive and like a good idea, but reality dictates otherwise. Simply put, the majority of the musicians you will meet in your lifetime play standards in the key associated with that composition. There are exceptions, especially when accompanying vocalists, but I'd much rather spend my time learning a dozen great tunes, as opposed to learning one song in a dozen keys. Unless you have no choice, work with the concert key.


Question Mark... (October 2003)

Any Good Fingernail Tips?

While I'm not as obsessed about fingernails as my classical guitar colleagues, I can certainly share some basic thoughts with you. First, never use nail clippers on either hand, something I haven't done even once in over 30 years. Get used to a nail file. Keep the left-hand (fretting) fingernails very short, so they don't interfere with the neck. Right-hand fingernail length has been a controversial subject for centuries, some favoring extremely short nails, others very long. I keep mine on the shorter side, so that the tip of the fingernail doesn't exceed the tip of the finger itself. Just enough to enhance the tone.


Question Mark... (September 2003)

Best Jazz Guitarist In History?

While there have been many legends of jazz guitar, dating back to Charlie Christian and earlier, in my mind the best ever will always be Wes Montgomery, the man who broke the mold in setting a trend for the instrument that's been imitated, but never surpassed. Wes' combination of blues and jazz language, coupled with his innovative use of "call & response" octave and chord solos, succeeded in underlining the percussive nature of the instrument. This is something that many professional and aspiring jazz guitarists comprehend, yet somehow still fail to employ in their own work. Wes was the "man!"


Question Mark... (August 2003)

Can You Define "Improvisation?"

Easy question, right? Not exactly, despite years and years of soloing in a variety of genres. After logging countless hours acquiring the language of music through transcribing great artists and arranging classic tunes, I've found a distinct relationship between the learning process and the creative act of expressing yourself on the fly. Nowadays, I think of improvisation as spontaneously transcribing and arranging what you hear. If what you hear, on the basis of the same pursuits, is powerful, what you play while improvising will be equally as powerful. Think about it.


Question Mark... (July 2003)

Most "Essential" Jazz Progression?

I'll always consider the blues the foundation of jazz, and therefore a critical progression to develop your ability in this genre. Beyond the blues, however, one progression has historically stood out from all others, the classic "Rhythm Changes" by George Gershwin. For years, this uptempo, 32-bar, AABA progression (typically in the key of Bb) has been the measuring stick for jazzers, regardless of their instrument. There have also been numerous compositions by Bird, Miles, Sonny Rollins, and many others, all using this time-honored progression. Next to blues, play "Rhythm Changes" every day!


Question Mark... (June 2003)

Any "Personal Favorite" Guitar Videos?

More and more live concert footage on DVD is surfacing all the time, and if you like virtuoso guitar performances, there are three titles that I can't recommend enough. Definitely pick up George Benson's "Absolutely Live" video, recorded in Ireland and available in VHS and DVD formats. It captures GB at his best. If you've never seen the amazing Stevie Ray Vaughan, get his "Live from Austin, Texas" DVD, a spellbinding dynamic performance from the late guitarist. If fingerstyle mastery is your cup of tea, you just have to check out Muriel Anderson's "All-Star Guitar Night - 2000" release. 5-Stars!


Question Mark... (May 2003)

What's A Good, Portable Recorder?

In this day of affordable digital audio recording, both hardware and software, there are simply many great choices. Being fascinated by the technology itself, I almost collect systems like I used to collect baseball cards as a kid. Current favorite? The Tascam Pocketstudio 5. Very small, it stores audio and either midi or mp3 backup tracks for accompaniment, has its own tone and rhythm generator, great built-in effects for guitar, bass, and vocals, writes to compact flash cards, connects to your PC via USB, mixes down to mp3 format, etc. Great for jamming, and you can record on 4 tracks at the push of a button!


Question Mark... (April 2003)

What Truly Defines A "Beginner?"

How players view their level of experience has always been a source of interest to me. Of course, the easy reply to "What truly defines a beginner?" is "a total lack of experience." Perhaps you can extend that definition for awhile, but once you can play a few notes or a chord, you're really no longer a beginner. I'm always amused when a new student says "Treat me like a beginner." There's a natural tendency for each of us to believe that we should have much more to show for our invested time than we do. The reality is that we just aren't as skilled in some areas, but there's always a tomorrow!


Question Mark... (March 2003)

The "Main Goal" In Composing?

Besides the obvious goal of creatively expressing your feelings and emotionally moving the listener, the thing I try most to achieve in writing original songs is to succeed purely on the "instrumental" front. This is especially true with popular compositions that are normally associated with vocals and lyrics. I know that if one of my tunes holds a listener's interest and moves them before lyrics are added, than I've really got something special. In my book, anything beyond that is "frosting on the cake," because the primary goal has already been accomplished. So take those melodies, bass lines, and chord progressions seriously!


Question Mark... (February 2003)

Is Having Patience In Music Critical?

What do you think? "Patience is a virtue" is how the old saying goes, and never is that more obvious than in the field of music, when you can labor hard for long periods of time without making a visible breakthrough. Outside of the arts, you can practically point to the calendar and predict precisely when certain achievements will take place. Music pursuit takes lots of courage, perseverance, and patience, and not just on the part of the individual player. Teachers must remain patient with their students, band leaders with band members, and so on. Yes, being patient in music is critical!


Question Mark... (January 2003)

When Is Technique A "Problem?"

First of all, let's be clear on one thing. Technique should never be measured by how fast or how strong a player happens to be. Hand speed and power mean zero if not coordinated with the message that the artist is attempting to deliver. Balance is everything when you assess a player's physical ability. For instance, B.B. King is a master guitarist because his technique, while viewed by some as simple, is perfectly balanced with what he hears. Many play fast yet say nothing. Others have something to say but fail technically. If you can smoothly play what you hear, relax. You have no problem!


Question Mark... (December 2002)

Is One Key Better than Another?

The question of preferred keys is extremely subjective, because it depends mightily on the instrument, the genre of music, and the task at hand. Guitar is very well-suited to sharp keys, like E, A, D, and G, due to the textural possibilities involving open strings. Jazz music tends to favor flat keys, like F, Bb, Eb, and Ab, because of the ease in which horn players can operate with their instruments. The simplest key for piano, and for overall comprehension on any other instrument, is the key of C, with no sharps or flats. And naturally, if vocals are part of the equation, that takes precedence over all else.


Question Mark... (November 2002)

Should A Guitarist Take Up Bass?

This is a ridiculously easy question for me to answer. How many ways can I spell the word "Y-E-S?" Guitarists tend to take their close cousin for granted, but they really have no idea just how powerful an impact even marginal bass skill can have on them as players and composers. And if you like jazz and creative improvisation, there's really nothing quite like the bass, where you get to do it all: play the melodies, improvise walks within the rhythm section, or take solos. No one likes bass solos? Not so in jazz, where they're not only expected but appreciated. Regardless of style, the bass rules!


Question Mark... (October 2002)

How Important Is Scale Practice?

Not one-tenth as important as many educators and fellow players would have you believe. Contrary to a prevailing myth that has no substantiation whatsoever, scales, modes, and arpeggios are often a hindrance more than a help. This is especially true if you forego the study and learning of "real-world" language (tunes, melodies, solos, licks, bass lines, etc), which is precisely what many choose to do in their misguided quest for creative expression. I have yet to meet one scale-based player who rings my bell, and until I do I'd recommend a very lean diet of scales. Don't ignore them, but don't worship them!


Question Mark... (September 2002)

What's the Best Transcribing Software?

Transcribe! No, I'm not giving you a directive. "Transcribe!" is the name of a program designed by Andy Robinson of Seventh String Software (UK), that's both affordable and quite simply the best product I've ever encountered for learning music by ear. Unlike most digital transcribing hardware or software, this program retains superb audio fidelity while allowing the user to slow down difficult passages almost as much as you wish. It has many features, but perhaps the best one is that it allows you to use your MP3 files for learning, and nowadays who doesn't have plenty of those? Check it out!


Question Mark... (August 2002)

Tips for Learning the Fingerboard?

Throughout the many years I've studied, played, and taught both guitar and bass, the two most enjoyable ways of exploring positions and notes on the fingerboard have both involved "real world" music. It doesn't hurt to practice basic scales in all playing locations for a starting point, but once that's done I'd highly advise that you spend time each day playing melodies, solos, licks, and bass lines in as many different positions as possible. Even moving simple blues ideas around can really open up some new doors. Guitarists should get involved with chord-melody arranging to visualize chord tones.


Question Mark... (July 2002)

Can Anyone Write An Original Song?

Of course, the answer to this question is obvious, because hypothetically anyone can write an original song. However, I find that many players, especially students of music, are often reluctant to take a stab at composition. I believe that the reason for this stems from the fact that musicians often feel that they need a much higher level of knowledge first, just as aspiring teachers sometimes feel inadequate if they don't have a degree in music behind them. But while the quest for knowledge is to be respected, you simply don't need to put restrictions on your creativity. Advice? Write on...


Question Mark... (June 2002)

Four or Five String Bass?

Call me a traditionalist if you must (I've been called worse), but I still favor the 4-string bass, and continue to recommend it, at least for a "first" bass purchase. Despite the obvious attraction of extending the register of the bass, or guitar for that matter, all of my mentors did the marvelous things that they did using conventional instruments, and never once have I sensed that they were "missing something" in the way of range. It's a personal call, however. For my bass work I sometimes crave higher range, not lower, so I just pick up the guitar instead. For guitar it's the opposite, so I reach for the bass.


Question Mark... (May 2002)

How Important Is "Relativity?"

Relativity is everything in music, in studying, in performing, in composing, and in teaching. Issues like technique and theory are completely secondary and sometimes meaningless if not related to the goal of the individual. Many of us are guilty of losing sight of this fact. And it can become a real problem, especially in the educational field, when a student places full confidence in a path that's often not related closely enough to their desired destination. My advice to players is to consider where they're going and what they're doing to get there. A good teacher should do likewise in creating the path.


Question Mark... (April 2002)

Always Alternate Pick or Fingers?

Even though, like most instructors, I'm a proponent of alternate picking (down & up) or rotating the index and middle fingers if playing bass or fingerstyle guitar, there's a huge misconception that exists among students and many players alike. This lies in the belief that you should "always" alternate, which is not only incorrect but can result in wreaking havoc on both your phrasing and the sound you achieve. You only alternate if the stylistic situation calls for it. For instance, in rock, funk, or latin music alternating begins with 16th notes. For jazz or shuffle blues, it's the 8th note. Think about it!


Question Mark... (March 2002)

Is Arranging and Composing Identical?

This is an interesting question, because composing is usually associated with writing original works, while arranging is connected with manipulating existing works. In my book, however, the actual distinction between the two areas is thin. Composing as well as improvising are really extensions of arranging, because in essence you're assembling pieces of musical language (melodies, bass lines, chord progressions, etc), either deliberately or spontaneously. I also firmly believe that skilled arrangers make the best composers and improvisers, simply due to the language acquired through arranging.


Question Mark... (February 2002)

Learn Solos "Note-for-Note?"

When I think of an improvised solo, I draw the comparison to a public speech, ideally an inspired, creative one. What makes each improviser (or "speaker") unique is how the licks (or "words") are assembled spontaneously, with a story being told along the way. With that in mind, it's important for the student to both acquire the tools as well as witness their use by a skilled player. Keep in mind the fact that certain styles, like jazz, are more harmonically complex, which makes a good case for learning a solo note-for-note in order to observe transitions. In a simpler style, you can just "hunt" for ideas.


Question Mark... (January 2002)

What Is "Inspired" Listening?

Though many of us pride ourselves in being open-minded with regards to the music we hear, the true test of how inspired we are can simply be measured by our attention span. "Inspired" listening, to me, is when a recorded performance moves us to the degree that we can listen to it over and over again, almost never tiring of it. We can profess to appreciate all styles of music, but how often or how long we will listen to something, no matter what the genre, is another matter entirely. After all, there's a big difference between "enjoying" something for years, as opposed to "tolerating" it for five minutes!


Question Mark... (December 2001)

Our Most Valuable Possession?

Time. Now, I'm not just talking about a good sense of rhythm, although you could make the argument that timing is the singular most important element in a musician's tool box. No, I'm referring to what I believe is our most precious commodity, and that's having the time itself to fulfill our dreams. We tend to occupy our days with activity, much of which is out of necessity, but that also leads to a great deal of stress and then filling the remainder of our available time with meaningless activity, just to relieve that stress. Ever hear the phrase "time is money?" Trust me. Time is much more important than money!


Question Mark... (November 2001)

What Makes A "Great" Tune?

To me, simplicity is the biggest factor in the quality of a song, because if it's over the head of the average listener it's doomed to failure. Now, you could argue that the listening public as a whole lacks taste and is under-educated when it comes to appreciating music of a cerebral nature, but I think the key lies in disguising that complexity. Beyond the general philosophy, however, a great song has a magnetic intro, and ideally a powerful verse, chorus, bridge, ending, etc. My advice to aspiring composers is to learn great tunes from great writers. Strength generates strength!


Question Mark... (October 2001)

Is It Good to Take A Break?

You mean does "absence make the heart grow fonder?" Yes, I believe that taking a periodic break from studying and playing can tend to rejuvenate your interest, and give you a different perspective with regards to the way you see your goals. Of course, you never want to abandon your sense of dedication in the process, and taking a break, especially during a week or two of vacation, can often throw you off balance and make it difficult to get "back in the saddle" upon return to your regularly scheduled programming. Still, I find that taking one day off a week, or even several days, can be very beneficial.


Question Mark... (September 2001)

Should I Compose "Model" Solos?

Yes, yes, yes! Take it from someone who years ago thrived only on "first-take" solos and looked down with disdain at the notion of actually writing out an improvisation. But "live and learn" I always say, and I have clearly seen the error of my ways since making an effort to compose model solos. When you think about it, all the greats assembled model solos, whether written or through constant playing, and the really good ones often became standards in the process. It's a highly effective way of focusing on a challenging chord progression while applying your language. Do it regularly. You won't regret it!


Question Mark... (August 2001)

"Superior" vs "Inferior" Practicing?

Even though individual goals can differ like night and day, there will always be a superior way to draw a straight line between where you're at and where you wish to be. So what I can do is to reiterate two philosophies that are broad enough to cover any music pursuit: The first is to practice only something that you would perform for someone, to the tune of 95% of your allotted time and energy. Why practice what no one wants to hear, eh? The other tip is to gravitate towards areas of study that utilize all of your senses (i.e. ear, mind, physical, etc), as opposed to isolating just one. Avoid inferiority!


Question Mark... (July 2001)

Is Understanding "Timing" Critical?

This is one question that I could spent a lot of time answering, because I firmly believe that most musicians, guitarists in particular, severely lack creative rhythmic imagination. This possibly stems from the fact that guitarists are poor sight-readers to begin with, and timing, though often overlooked, is such a huge part of what makes any piece of music different than another. When I say "any piece of music" I'm referring to the melody of a song, the bass line, riffs in an improvised solo, etc. Tip: as you listen and learn from your musical influences, try to note the creative use of time. You won't regret it!


Question Mark... (June 2001)

How Complicated Is Jazz?

Not half as much as many teachers and players would have you believe. For the longest time this has been a pet peeve of mine, and it goes directly against my philosophy and belief that the greatest players in jazz (or other genres) know the "real world" music and the language very well, but didn't acquire it through some theory book or a college classroom. Truth be told, we can learn so much through simple observation of how our influences learned, and by imitating both their path and their musical language. And guess what? You'll be doing exactly what they did! Not too complicated, eh?


Question Mark... (May 2001)

The Best "Overall" Amplifier?

I've owned many amps over the years, and despite all the talk about "amp-modeling" in recently with developments from Line-6 and Roland (among others), nothing impresses me more than the new "Cyber Twin" from Fender. This is a classic tube amplifier actually capable of duplicating the exact schematics of 35 vintage Fender amps with the twist of a dial. In the seconds that it takes for the circuitry to change, the motorized knobs turn on their own! (you have to see and hear this to believe it). Add DSP effects, custom patches, and the ability to build your own amp? Worth checking out!


Question Mark... (April 2001)

How Valuable Is the Blues?

Would you prefer a one word reply? Priceless! Of course the question is a subjective one, but since I basically consider myself to be a "blues guy" who enjoys and plays several other styles of music, there's simply no better answer in my book. Jazz or rock that's missing elements of blues never holds my interest, and if you further define blues as playing with "soul" or feeling, the philosophy carries over into classical music or other genres not inherently based in the traditional blues style. My advice to fellow players? Play just a little blues every single day and you'll never look back!


Question Mark... (March 2001)

Notation, Tablature, or Grids?

I get asked about this subject very frequently, understandable because guitarists (and many bassists) have a reputation for being such poor sight-readers who tend to rely on visual aids for learning. Many teachers, especially those in the classical and jazz fields, are adamant about not using aids like tablature at all. Personally I feel that's going too far, because even though I prefer standard notation myself (mainly from the "timing" perspective), in actuality all written music is highly interpretive, and I believe that you still have to "hear" it to really get the true picture. Advice? Be open to all possibilities!


Question Mark... (February 2001)

What Kind of Flatpick Should I Use?

Talk about a personal guitar question? Well, the choice of your favorite flatpick is an issue that can be debated in all circles by all players, and all that really counts is whether your preference works for you or not. Like many blues (and jazz) guitarists, I've generally favored a smaller than standard, heavy pick for my work. On the other hand, I've recently come across an influence who plays with greater speed than anyone I've ever encountered, does it with an extremely thin pick, and has solid, logical reasons for doing so. Nevertheless, it's a personal call, so experiment if you're inclined!


Question Mark... (January 2001)

What About Resolutions?

I'll bet you thought this was a "theory" question, right? No, it's concerning a much more important issue, that of setting personal goals. Traditionally the new year has always been the most popular time for people to assess themselves and make resolutions, but frankly if I had to wait 12 months to set mine, I'd never get anything done! As you probably know and can see from my own efforts, I'm a highly goal-driven individual, because I believe that setting regular goals is something that anyone can do, regardless of talent level. All that remains is the work to carry them out, and we can all do that too!


Question Mark... (December 2000)

Is Recording Yourself A Good Idea?

Yes! I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but there's no better way to expose your weaknesses and your strengths than by recording yourself on a regular basis. Many players are intimidated by the thought of recording, often because they feel uncomfortable hearing themselves from an objective standpoint, but therein lies the value. You hear yourself differently "after" the fact, as opposed to playing live. What you truly don't like will stand out, and you'll do everything to eliminate it, and quickly. Conversely, what you do like will shine, reminding you to do more of the same the very next time you play.


Question Mark... (November 2000)

Any "Tips" for Teaching Kids?

Having two young girls who play guitar, this is an easy one for me, but amazingly many adults and parents still fail to see what should be so obvious. Just ask yourself "what is the one thing that children love to do?" The answer? "Have fun!" It's not coincidental that I end the text on almost every chart I do with that directive, because music without the "F word" is drudgery. The worse thing you can do is to banish a child to their room and force them to study an instrument. The best thing you can do is have them play for you, or better still play with you. We can learn so much from our kids!


Question Mark... (October 2000)

How Important Is the Bass?

Having played this wonderful instrument for some thirty years, this is an easy one for me. Read my lips: the bass is the singular most important musical instrument in any group setting, regardless of style! It projects rhythm while defining the harmony and personality of a song. As a matter of fact, many a hit tune owes its success to a memorable bass line, and it doesn't make any difference whether the part is a simple one in a basic rock, pop, or country cover, or a highly creative, complex one in a jazz or fusion piece. A note to guitarists: take up the bass as a second axe and improve your musicianship!


Question Mark... (September 2000)

Is There A "Best Way" To Pick?

There are many different schools of thought regarding the use of a flatpick (plectrum), and the approaches range from highly scientific and technical to almost no thought at all. For most situations, I'm still a firm believer that you should "alternate" (pick down and up), always keeping the rhythm of the music in mind. Of course there are times when the most efficient and "musical" way to handle a passage will involve "rake" (or "sweep") picking, but as an overall philosophy I feel uncomfortable picking down when the beat is up, or vice versa. My best advice is to remain open-minded and experiment!


Question Mark... (August 2000)

The Skill Guitarists Lack Most?

I think that everyone's first response to this question would be sight-reading, because guitarists are notoriously bad readers. And don't beat your chest if you play the bass, because bassists run a close second in that department. With all of that said, however, I truly believe that the weakest area among guitarists in general lies in their inability to really comprehend chords, from construction to their use. Why? Because guitarists typically don't involve themselves in the types of study pursuits that spawn chordal thinking and growth, like arranging, for instance. Okay, you've got your clue. Go for it!


Question Mark... (July 2000)

How Many Students Do You Have?

This is an interesting question that I get asked all of the time. It's a bit tough to answer nowadays, because the success of the website has changed all the factors involved. Like most instructors, I continue to maintain a private practice, but as the demand and exposure has grown via Vision Music, the number steadily declined and became fixed two years ago. The "Sweet Sixteen" is the name of my local student team. Correspondence membership has been at 80-90 for a long time, for a total private student load of over a hundred. Then there's the thousands that I teach for free on the web. Back to work!


Question Mark... (June 2000)

Should I Transcribe "Other" Instruments?

Yes, you bet you should! One of the greatest things we can ever hope to accomplish as aspiring artists is uniqueness, but the surest way to defeat that dream is by only listening to and being influenced by musicians who play our instrument of choice. It's so important to realize that the message we communicate transcends any individual instrument, but so many players fail to understand this. If you play guitar or bass, imitate and transcribe sax, trumpet, trombone, piano, vocals, etc. When you add up all those influences, the sum total will be powerful and unique. Trust me, I know!


Question Mark... (May 2000)

Best Cure for "Shaky" Fingers?

Nerves are always an interesting subject. Though the best cure for the "jitters" would appear to be adequate preparation, there's often no explanation for why we're more nervous than we should be. As a matter of fact, sometimes too much practice psychologically works against you. Here's my tip: "vibrato". Now, this only affects the "fretting" (normally left) hand, but it will succeed in disguising your nervousness and fooling your audience into thinking that you're just putting more "feeling" into your performance. But guess what? That's exactly what you'll be doing, and I find that it works like a charm!


Question Mark... (April 2000)

How Long Should A Solo Be?

Not too long. This is a point to aspiring improvisers that I can't emphasize enough. I always advise players to strive for concise, yet interesting and emotionally charged solos. The odds of achieving and maintaining this goal get drastically reduced if you attempt a long improvisation. Though long solos are a common trademark of amateur musicians, there are a great many examples of well-known players who, in my opinion, stretched their creative solo work so far that the power of the message got lost in the process. Keep your blues solos under 36 bars, and jazz solos under 64 bars. Less is more!


Question Mark... (March 2000)

What's Your "True" First Love?

You might say that I've "worn a lot of hats" in my artistic efforts over the years, but the one area that I'm proudest of is the one I started out with as a young child: writing. My own handwritten neighborhood newspaper at eight, submitting short stories and articles to magazines and publishers as an early teen, editor of the school paper and majoring in journalism during my school years, etc. Of course, I never dreamed back then that I'd fall in love with music, and end up with something special to offer others, both from a literary and a musical composition standpoint. One of the ironies of life, eh?


Question Mark... (February 2000)

Secret of Great Jam Tracks?

Simple! Oh, you want a longer answer? Truth be told, keeping things simple and tasteful when creating accompaniments is my most important goal. Sure, you can add lots and lots of bells and whistles with multiple instruments and complex movement, but unless you're creating an original song I find that the "extras" usually get in the way. With many jam recordings, I'll catch myself wincing in agony every time I hear the band getting too busy, causing the "pocket" to virtually disappear. Even if it's momentary, that can be enough to ruin your solo. Most critical component? A solid, powerful bass part!


Question Mark... (January 2000)

The Most Important Musical Goal?

Is this a trick question? Can there really be one musical goal for all players? Or teachers? Absolutely. In my book, the singular most important goal for any player is finding an effective, inspiring path, or finding a coach who has the vision to provide it. Unfortunately, many players are walking a path that's not a straight one, and often it's one that keeps going around and around in circles, despite countless study hours. There's nothing worse than being falsely led astray, yet not being aware of it. So how do you know if you're on the right path? If you're learning, inspired, and having fun, you're there!


Question Mark... (December '99)

The Coach's "Favorite" Guitarist?

Don't you just hate questions like that? Well, there are many guitarists that I greatly admire, of course. But those who know me well would quickly point out that, if I had to single out one player, it would have to be George Benson. In my opinion, no other jazz guitarist has ever played with greater passion and rhythmic imagination, nor has any player so effectively bridged the gap between jazz, rhythm & blues, and pop music. There are many naive critics who will disagree with me, but the truth is that critics are a "dime a dozen", but there is only one George Benson!


Question Mark... (November '99)

Who Makes A Good Bass?

Many years ago, despite the number of manufacturers, this would have been an easy question. Fender established itself early in the fifties as the first and best electric bass, with its exceedingly long neck. To this day the Fender Precision and Jazz basses are still among the most popular, but it's a field now dominated by custom builders like Tobias, Padulla, Warwick, and others. Though I've owned many Fenders in my career, currently I have a Padulla fretted and an Ibanez Musician fretless. And if your wallet isn't ready for a custom instrument, Carvin makes an excellent bass for the buck!


Question Mark... (October '99)

What About "Smooth" Jazz?

I realize that "smooth jazz" is a very touchy subject in the jazz community, but once I get past the political aspects of a national radio rotation that (unfortunately) excludes many deserving artists, there still remains four elements that really appeal to me. First of all, I love anything "blues-related" and "groove-oriented", and most tunes in rotation on smooth jazz stations have those traits. Now, add to that mix the fact that probably 90% of the featured instrumentalists are guitarists and saxophonists (my favorite instruments), well... what's not to like, eh?


Question Mark... (September '99)

Should I Use A Metronome?

Actually, using any regular "time-keeper" while you practice is a pretty good idea. When I was in my early stages of development, there was almost no option for personal practice outside of using a traditional metronome, the most common made by Seth-Thomas. Of course, nowadays there are many makes, models, and sizes, plus other alternatives (i.e. accompaniment software, MIDI devices, etc) that will help you stay "in the groove". If there's an advantage to the metronome, it's in the fact that the exact time is isolated in beats per minute (tempo), allowing you to set goals for technical achievement.


Question Mark... (August '99)

My Greatest Jazz Influence?

How well do you know the coach? Can you guess who inspired me to want to learn jazz? If you guessed my late father that would be understandable. How about guitarists like George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, or Joe Pass? Or maybe a great horn man like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, or John Coltrane? The answer is "no" on all counts, though all of the above artists have played huge, influential roles in my career. My first love affair was with the blues, and it wasn't until I heard jazz pianist Oscar Peterson that I realized just how soulful jazz could be. The "Big O" was the "man!"


Question Mark... (July '99)

What's Better: Scales or Riffs?

Anyone who knows me can predict this answer, because my entire teaching approach is based on "real-world" language (great tunes, riffs, bass lines, etc), and not the hypothetical "alphabet" (scales, arpeggios). The latter shouldn't be avoided by any means, but too much concentration there at the expense of reality can have disastrous effects, yet teachers and players continue to stress the abstract in their misguided quest to achieve creative "freedom". What's achieved is just the opposite: a "prison" that the best players of our time managed to avoid by speaking the language!


Question Mark... (June '99)

Most Important Trait to Possess?

In my opinion, there are actually two of them: resilience and conviction. The former is critical because, even if you do have a solid work ethic, you have to be ready to weather the many storms that musical pursuit presents, and those that have a knack for "hanging in there" will eventually get to where they want to be. The second trait, conviction, can be clearly seen in the intensity that the best musicians seem to have, whether it rears its head in the manner that they attack their goals, or in the way that their performance comes across to others. How do you measure up?


Question Mark... (May '99)

A Decent Nylon-String Guitar?

As most of my students and colleagues know, I prefer the nylon-string, "classical" guitar for my acoustic work, regardless of the style of music. Though I began on steel-strings, I quickly fell in love with the romantic sound of the classical, which I personally attribute to the violin-like vibrato possible with this instrument. Prices and quality range enormously, from "junk" at $100-200 to gorgeous handmade models up to $8000. I have a nice handmade, but my main axe is a Takamine EC132SC. Cutaway for upper-range ease, excellent electronics, great acoustic sound, and affordable (under $1000).


Question Mark... (April '99)

How Important Is "Natural" Talent?

A fascinating subject. Nine out of ten great players have one thing in common, and it's not "natural" talent. It's their obsessive work ethic, their almost fanatic devotion to the art, and to being the best that they can be. As a matter of fact, there are many examples of legendary players that were pretty inadequate at one point in their career, contrary to the way that most perceive a great artist. The good news is that we're all born with the capacity and will to set goals and strive for greatness, regardless of whatever "natural" talent we may or may not possess. Enough talk. Let's get to work!


Question Mark... (March '99)

Recommend A Good Chord Book?

This is a tough one for me, because most of what I've learned regarding chord voicings and construction has come by the "school of hard knocks" (slow, but effective). Almost every guitarist or student that I've met has purchased, at one point or other, a huge volume with every chord "flavor" known to the human race, but I've always found those kinds of reference books to be lacking, and a poor substitute for learning chords in a practical manner. One book that I do feel is a brilliant work for the intermediate to advanced player is Ted Greene's "Modern Chord Progressions". Put it on your list!


Question Mark... (February '99)

How Much is a Good Archtop Guitar?

Because of my jazz background and the association of that genre with the archtop guitar, I get asked this question pretty frequently. Nowadays vintage (or new) Gibsons are very expensive ($3500 and up), as are any handmade instruments. Guild used to represent an inexpensive alternative, but a good one is over $2000 now. If you're like most players with a limited budget, you can still buy a decent jazz guitar for a thousand dollars or less. There are several good Epiphone models to consider, though you may want to replace the pickups. For just a little more, check out the Yamaha AEX1500.


Question Mark... (January '99)

Is There A "Best Age" To Start?

Well, I could recite a number of cliches to answer this common question, but they would all point to the same reply: no! There are so many misconceptions regarding the positives of taking up an instrument at an early age, ideally during childhood, but there are simply too many exceptions to ignore. I didn't start until almost 19 years old, just like jazz guitar pioneers Charlie Christian (17) and Wes Montgomery (19), and I know players who've achieved great success starting much later in life than that. Music is timeless. It's not "when" you get on board the train that counts, just that you do it!


Question Mark... (December '98)

Good Jazz Guitar Recordings?

This is a pretty subjective issue, because what rings one person's bell will not necessarily ring another's. But since you asked... Almost anything by Wes Montgomery, but try "Smokin' At the Half-Note" (Verve) for starters. Anything by the late Joe Pass is a safe bet, from his "Virtuoso" solo series (Pablo) to his work with pianist Oscar Peterson and beyond. Don't miss Hank Garland's "Jazz Winds from A New Direction" (Columbia), one of my all-time favorites, or George Benson's terrific compilation "Talking Verve" (Polygram). There are many more, but those are a few to consider.


Question Mark... (November '98)

What About the Left-Hand Thumb?

Well... what about it? I think it's almost a given that, if you take lessons at all, a "good" teacher will immediately tell you to "never drape your left-hand thumb over the neck!" I disagree, but then I've always had a problem with the term "proper" technique. There are just too many examples of great performers that not only break that rule, but use it to a musical advantage. Here's a tip: keep your technique versatile and adaptable. When you need maximum reach and precise fingertip control, plant the thumb behind the neck. For all other situations it's not critical, so judge what's "proper" for yourself!


Question Mark... (October '98)

How Important Are Fingernails?

Very important! The use of right-hand nails versus flesh has been an ongoing debate literally for centuries, with famous teachers and players spending lifetimes of devotion with or without, depending on their technical philosophy. Though nothing's "carved-in-stone", the accepted modern day approach is approximately 75-80% flesh, and 20-25% nail (your mileage may vary). Take good care of your nails. Never clip them. Always file them, first with a steel file, then with fine sandpaper. You can buff them on leather or a cosmetic "wand", which really contributes to a "smooth" sound. Try it!


Question Mark... (September '98)

Any Tips for Playing Octaves?

Sure. Like anything else technically on the guitar (or bass) it's simply a "time and experience" issue. Whether you play octaves with the thumb only (ala Wes) or plucked, the bigger challenge is in the left-hand moving gracefully up and down the fingerboard. Even practicing a basic major or pentatonic scale in octaves can help, but it's a lot more enjoyable to play "heads" (melodies) or riffs. I had a duo several years ago with my wife (Janice), where I made a point of being able to play 75% of our repertoire in octaves. Ballads and latin tunes are perfect for this. Just do it every day!


Question Mark... (August '98)

Should I Have A Fakebook?

A good "fakebook" is indispensable, especially if you're drawn to playing jazz and classic standards. It's basically a large collection of lead sheets (melody & chord progressions), which is all a decent jazz musician needs to improvise or "fake" it (hence the name). When I was growing up, there was no such thing as a "legal" fakebook, as copyright was usually ignored by the authors, many of whom ended up being legally penalized. Nowadays most fakebooks are sold "over the counter", with perhaps the most popular currently being "The New Real Book" by bassist Chuck Sher. Buy one!


Question Mark... (July '98)

How Often Should I Improvise?

Since "time & experience" are the biggest factors in how well you do anything in life, and since music is a language, it makes sense to "speak" that language on your instrument as often as possible. It really doesn't make a difference how high your aspirations might be as a contemporary soloist. Improvising spontaneously on a daily basis, even over simple blues, is both a terrific means of creative expression and a springboard to better composing and arranging. It's almost impossible to imagine a day going by without engaging in a creative conversation, so don't let a day go by without improvising!


Question Mark... (June '98)

How Important Is Versatility?

This is a subjective question, because each of us has different goals. For me personally, versatility is everything, not that I want to be known as a "jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none" artist. I just believe that the sum total of all your parts should accurately reflect your musical interests. Many times in my career I've pondered the notion that, if I had been willing to put all of my apples in one cart, I could have carved a reputation as the next great (fill in the blank). But since I can never be the best in one specific area, it's much more gratifying and challenging to me to blend my interests in a way that's never quite been done. Make sense?


Question Mark... (May '98)

What's a Good Amp for Jazz?

First, let me say that I don't consider myself to be the consummate authority on the subject of guitar amplification. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" has always been my motto. But since people do ask me, for my jazz work over the years I've used Fenders (twin, deluxe, and Princeton reverbs), Polytones (mini-brutes), and the early Roland Cubes (orange series). Like many jazz guitarists, I like solid-states that somehow manage a warm, rich mid-range sound. Don't ask me how they do it, but the Roland Blues Cube-60 that I recently bought has probably been the best amp that I've ever bought, and its price tag is certainly reasonable. Check it out!


Question Mark... (April '98)

How Long Will It Take?

I just couldn't allow one more month to pass without finally addressing one of the most common questions that a music coach is likely to hear. Though no one truly expects "instant gratification" in music pursuit, it bears repeating that this is a timeless art form. As your practice devotion and hours add up, it's quite understandable that your personal expectations rise accordingly. Be patient. What I often tell my students is that the only real cause for frustration is when you lack certainty in the path itself, or faith and trust in the coach that's showing you the way. Take it "one day at a time" (as the saying goes). Trust me. You'll get there!


Question Mark... (March '98)

The Best Medium For Recording?

Many options exist nowadays for recording your creative efforts, something that I highly recommend doing on a regular basis. When I was signed a few years back, it was contingent on doing our own production, so out of necessity I had to buy a system capable of producing CD-quality audio. Mine is PC-based, and for the sheer editing power alone, I can't imagine anything superior. But other high quality choices would include stand alone units like the popular Roland VS880 or the Alesis ADAT. Then there's the new mini-disc recorders (Tascam & Sony), and on the low end you can always buy an inexpensive cassette portastudio.


Question Mark... (February '98)

Recommend Any Good Jazz Videos?

There are, of course, many good jazz instructional videos on the market, but if you'd like to see some incredible concert footage from the likes of Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Grant Green, Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis, etc.., definitely pick up the "Legends of Jazz Guitar" video series from Vestapol. These are vintage performances, from the early sixties to mid-seventies, in three volumes, available (web) at: www.yazoobluesmailorder.com. The clips of Wes alone are easily worth the price of admission. If you like jazz guitar, don't miss these!


Question Mark... (January '98)

Coolest Portable MIDI Device?

Well, I've seen quite a few, but you might have a hard time convincing me that the one I just bought, Roland's Personal Music Assistant (PMA-5), isn't the hippest MIDI thing around. Over 300 samples from Roland's impressive library, 16 drumkits, multiple effects, 8-track sequencer, an amazing "band-in-a-box" arranger with 600 different parts in a hundred different styles (plus storage for 200 of your own), 20-song memory, MIDI & serial ports for transfer to and from your PC, etc.. All this in a light package that's just 7" by 5" by 1.5" - runs on batteries or AC. Powerful, portable, and cool!


Question Mark... (December '97)

Can Anyone Teach Guitar?

Probably so, from what I can see. The question, of course, is not how formally qualified a teacher may be, but how effective he or she is at getting a student from where they're at to where they'd like to be. For instance, there are many instructors who possess a lot of "book" knowledge, but lack the foresight and flexibility to really be effective. And I should mention that the guitar, stylistically speaking, is a different breed than other instruments. I mean, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to teach a folk guitarist "Travis-picking", if that's what they want to learn. Sincerity and enthusiasm count the most!


Question Mark... (November '97)

Best Music Scoring Program?

Despite Coda's famous chest-beating in claiming "Finale" as the scoring program by which all others are judged, it's obvious to me that the programmers don't play guitar or bass. I bought my first PC in the mid-eighties (a "dinosaur" Atari 1040 ST) for the sole purpose of doing music scoring, first using "The Copyist" by Dr. T and later "Encore" by Passport Designs. The latter remains my application of choice, though all composing and arranging is now done on a Power Mac. For a totally intuitive and gorgeous interface, plus its ability to handle guitar/bass tablature with such ease, you just can't beat it!


Question Mark... (October '97)

Shortest Path To Jazz Success?

One word. BLUES. Not just "any" blues, but blues the way a jazz musician plays it. Almost every related challenge is there: melodies, comping, two-fives, turnarounds, etc.. Command this vehicle and I guarantee that you'll acquire 80% of what you'll ever need to know to play any other kind of jazz. Words can't possibly describe the success that I've had with aspiring jazz guitarists and bassists by focusing on what should be so obvious to other players and teachers. Perhaps the cerebral attraction of jazz keeps the "shortest path to success" a secret. Get with the program!


Question Mark... (September '97)

Practice Everything Every Day?

While it would be an ideal scenario to cover everything that you know (memorized) each and every day, as time passes it becomes next to impossible to do so. Even if you somehow could, it would leave so little time for new projects and pursuits that you'd quickly fall into a rut. Once you've learned/memorized a song, a riff, or anything of lasting value, it's pretty difficult to forget it unless you never get around to playing it. So be as clever as possible in "rotating" your review material in a way that you still feel growth. This might be every other day, once a week, every two weeks, etc.. Experiment!


Question Mark... (August '97)

What About Effects Processors?

Well, what do you want me to say? Effects, whether they be stomp boxes or digital rack effects (FX) processors, can be a lot of fun at times. Nowadays, you can get multi-processors for a pretty inexpensive price that generally come loaded with "caricatures" of many famous guitarists/bassists. I should know. I've bought my share. But you know something? Almost every player that I know who owns a nice signal-effects processor only uses it occasionally, giving credence to the notion that, despite all of that seeming potential, the novelty shortly wears off. The truth is in your hands!


Question Mark... (July '97)

Should I Sit or Stand While Practicing?

With my background in jazz and classical music, I probably do more than my share of sitting while performing and practicing than the average guitarist. Not long ago, one of my local students made the observation that, while comparing two different performing jazz guitarists, the one that played while standing seemed not only to be more in touch with the audience, but appeared to be enjoying the music more as well. I took that thought to heart and began spending part of each day's practice standing as opposed to sitting. I never dreamed that I would enjoy such a simple diversion so much. Try it!


Question Mark... (June '97)

How Much Should I Spend For A Guitar?

Five words that you should "burn" into your brain: As much as you can! Your financial situation aside, you owe it to yourself. The worse thing an aspiring player can do is to convince himself/herself of the need to prove their mettle on a cheap instrument. What usually happens instead is that you lose much of your inspiration in the process. Having a quality guitar or bass puts the responsibility for success squarely on your own "practice" shoulders. And if you somehow lose interest and have to part with it, you'll get more money back. Look for a good deal, but spend as much as you can!


Question Mark... (May '97)

Should I Use A Music Stand?

I'm addressing the question of using a music stand this month based on one simple observation that I make during my private lesson practice. Students will routinely come into the studio, pull out their guitar or bass, plug in, tune up, pull out their binders, folders, or charts, and simply drop them on the floor, somehow avoiding the music stand that sits right in front of them. Hmm... Conclusion? You guessed it. No music stand at home. Whether you sit or stand while studying, a good, adjustable music stand with a wide "lip" for holding your books and charts will be a welcome addition. Trust me!


Question Mark... (April '97)

What String Gauge To Use?

You know, I have to laugh when players tell me that they're "graduating" from .009s (high E) to .010s, because I've been using .014s for years! Of course, the trade-off is that those "piano wires" that I call strings, while terrific for chords and double-stops, are not the most suitable for large bends. My advice on the electric is to never go lighter than "lights" (.010 through .046), and consider a medium set (.012s on the high E) if you play much jazz. On the acoustic steel, try to "muscle up" and get used to mediums as well. The tone difference is especially dramatic on that instrument.


Question Mark... (March '97)

Should I Be Involved With A Band?

Bands are a lot like teachers, meaning that it can be a very good or a very bad experience, depending (in this case) on the members involved. If the chemistry is right, and if you can surround yourself with players that are as good or ideally better than yourself, the influence can propel your playing to newfound heights. With that kind of potential, I believe that it's well worth going through some bad experiences (if necessary) to become a better player and generally have a whole lot of fun. Just don't make the mistake of practicing your instrument only during band rehearsal. Good luck!


Question Mark... (February '97)

Are Instructional Videos Worthwhile?

Well, they certainly can be. I realize that they sport a hefty price tag (typically $40-50), but if you find one that's well put together by a competent instructor, and if the subject matter is something specific to your needs, an instructional video can literally be a "gold mine" (and a bargain in that in can be viewed again). Unfortunately, with many videos you don't necessarily "get what you pay for", so you understandably have to be a little careful when making a decision on one. Your best bet is to find what other notable players have to say about it before you spend your money.


Question Mark... (January '97)

How Often Should I Change My Strings?

This is a question posed to me on a regular basis. Players often have extreme opinions on the subject. I have a current student in a steady, working band situation who likes to change his strings every other day. I knew a bassist once with the same preference. Pretty expensive, eh? On the other hand, famous R & B bassist "Duck" Dunn changes his "about every 15 years," and I've known guitarists who will only change them "when they break." Do you get the idea that this might be a personal decision? Well, since every question deserves an answer, I'll give you one. A "safe-bet" would be to replace your strings every 3-6 months.


Question Mark... (December '96)

Best "Entry-Level" MIDI Program?

I find guitar players to often be a little "freaked-out" about computers and music, but there's simply no denying the incredible benefits to be gained by using this powerful combination for improving your playing. While a full-fledged MIDI "sequencing" program can be a bit daunting to a newcomer, try the very popular and successful "Band-In-A-Box" software by PG Music. It's affordable, works with your sound card or synthesizer, and is easy and fun to use. And if you want to "take the next step" from there, you can additionally export standard MIDI files for use in a dedicated sequencer program. Give it a try!


Question Mark... (November '96)

Which Acoustic - Steel or Classical?

Nine times out of ten, when someone says "acoustic guitar" to me, they're referring to a "steel-string" guitar. This is the type of guitar that I began on, owning two very nice Martins during my first couple of years in music. I gradually fell in love with the "nylon-string" and have favored it ever since as my acoustic instrument of choice. Why? Well, with all due respect to the steel-string and those that prefer it, I feel that the classical is much more versatile. And despite its reputation as being difficult to play (due primarily to the wider fingerboard), I find it technically superior for fingerstyle guitar. Unless you're a "country music" fanatic, consider it.


Question Mark... (October '96)

Best Guitar/Bass Tuner On the Market?

All together now. Can you say S-A-B-I-N-E? This is a ridiculously easy call for me, and I own at least a half-dozen tuners. If you find yourself getting frustrated trying to watch the flight of a "needle" across your present tuner, or if you get headaches on a regular basis from dancing "strobe" lights that never seem to track a pitch properly, the Sabine is for you. Try the stand-alone ST-1100 or ST-1500 models, or the super cool miniature AX-800. It actually mounts on your instrument and accurately reads pitch in even the most noisy environment, thanks to a contact mic that picks up only the surface vibration. A "sound" choice!


Question Mark... (September '96)

Proper Technique for the Right-Hand Fingers?

Correct "flatpick" technique may be a debatable issue, with so many players successfully getting the job done with different approaches, but there are some uniform "guidelines" when discussing the position of the right-hand for "fingerstyle" playing. Keep your "ring" finger perpendicular to the strings and extend the thumb out in front of the "index" finger, forming the shape of an "X" and creating a "scissors" motion between the two. This position promotes clarity between the bass and treble strings, and allows maximum acoustic projection. You may have to adjust the position of your forearm as well. Try it!


Question Mark... (August '96)

Quickest Way To Better Reading Skill?

I know that I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating if it somehow hasn't "sunk in" yet. Write, write, write! Or on a more specific note, strive to read and write what you hear. I know that this may seem, at times, like a daunting proposition, but believe me when I tell you that I speak from personal experience on this. Try stealing a riff or two from a favorite recording, or examine the melody of one of your original songs. Once you're "locked in" by ear, tap your foot (or use a metronome) and attempt to accurately write it. Remember that "success lies in the effort," so don't be intimidated!


Question Mark... (July '96)

How Can I Assure Continual Musical Growth?

Though I wish that I could say that I practice what I preach all of the time, there are three study areas that I guarantee will cause you to evolve on a daily basis. They are 1) Arranging, 2) Recording, and 3) Transcribing. I call it the "A.R.T." approach (for "artistic"). While you certainly shouldn't ignore reviewing what you've learned, these three areas provide a constant source of learning and self-evaluation. Even just a few moments of each pursuit on a daily basis will do wonders for your growth, and you'll probably be inspired to devote much more than just a few moments. Try it out!


Question Mark... (June '96)

Is There A Minimum Time I Should Practice?

Yes there is, but it varies for each individual. You have to remain responsible for the goals that you set for yourself, making realistic time decisions accordingly. The broader your range of desires, both stylistically and technically, the larger your daily minimum study time should be. You should also carefully balance your "Basic" review ("been there - done that") with "Project" tasks (new material) to avoid falling into a musical rut. Want some numbers? Bare minimum should be at least thirty minutes a day, or three to four hours a week.


Question Mark... (May '96)

Should I Use A Clock/Timer During Study?

Absolutely! Unless you possess the rare luxury of hours and hours of daily practice time, you need to find a logical way to set goals and organize whatever valuable time that you do have. This reality becomes increasingly more important with each and every new piece of information that you wish to digest and review. Personally, I'd probably own less than half of my present vocabulary if it hadn't been for my judicious use of time as a gauge of progress."But it's artistically stifling" you say? Sorry, the benefits outweigh that issue.


Question Mark... (April '96)

Is There An "Ideal" Time of Day for Practice?

Yes and no, to be truthful. While each student is different, making it difficult to offer a universal solution, I find that it's an excellent idea to find time early in the day for study. I know that it's tough, especially considering one's penchant for "grabbing a few extra winks" before that morning commute, to actually set the alarm and force yourself to rise sooner than you'd like to. But most people are just mentally fresher in the morning, making anything that you can add later "gravy". Remember that we're all "creatures of habit". Give it a try!


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