Some Things the Digital World Left Behind

Hey Guitarists –

I love technology. I enjoy my mac laptop, my blackberry, my wide screen tv and my wireless router.
Some things, however, are not all that improved by technology. I love my guitars. They are wonderfully imperfect devices, played by imperfect human musicians that make music that can give goose-bumps to imperfect listeners. And it’s been that way long before Pascal invented his first Counting Machine (Pascal is considered the father of the Computer).
Don’t get me wrong, I like Tuners and model amps, and hot pickups but we’re still playing an “analog” instrument. Yeah, they try to make digital guitars that tune themselves but forget it. It won’t replace your Les Paul, your Strat, or your Ibanez. They are all beautifully imperfect.
I took a long time off from teaching after I got married. Like 15 years. When I started playing again, amps had changed, but guitars really hadn’t. Then I started teaching a few folks again where to put their fingers, what chords to play, and what scale to play against it.
I specialize in teaching my students how to improvise over select chord progressions. That includes jazz progressions that might change key (modulate). In order to practice this, it is best if the student has some background chords to work against. This is critical, actually. Your ear needs to be developed to hear your notes against these chords, as well as developing timing and eventually phrasing.
So the student has a couple of options:
1) Have me come over everyday to play chords for you. Not likely.
2) Have a friend play chords and then you do the same for him. This is actually a great idea and teaches the student to take turns playing lead and rhythm. However, not every guitarist’s best friend is another guitarist.
3) Record the chords on a tape recorder and play them back. This is how I learned for years, and what I would do for my students back in the 1980’s if they brought a cassette in.
The cassette tape recorder was my “wing man”. I even had one with a variable pitch control so I could tune the thing to me when students brought in tapes of their songs.
What I discovered when I started teaching again was no one had a tape recorder anymore! I mean no one. I think the last tape recorder anybody possessed was on a boom box and those have been shoved aside for ipods and mp3 players.
What is a budding guitarist supposed to do?
You have some options:
1) Get some sort of recording software and record yourself on your computer. Cost unknown. GarageBand comes with all Macs and I like it and use it. It’s a bit of work to set up (compared to popping a tape in) but you can do it.
2) Buy some backup music software like “Band in a box”. One of my students had that. This costs over $200 so be prepared.
3) …or get my practice CD.
I decided to fill this void for my students by providing an affordable practice CD that comes with tuning tracks for al 6 strings, then 8 tracks of rock, jazz, and blues in various keys to help the guitarist over this hump. Keys include G Major, A blues, Bb blues, E “funk” blues, C Major/A Minor, and the cycle of fourths (all 12 keys covered in that one). 45 minutes of music for you to work those scales and great ideas against.
Each track has me on rhythm guitar, me on bass, and some cool drummer named “midi” (ok, joke, midi is a computer binary file that sounds like a drummer and is actually quite nice).
Check out my practice CD at and start hearing what you’re missing from your practice sessions.
Happy Shredding!

Understanding Intervals Part 7 (conclusion) – Octaves

Hey Shredders….

This is my last blog entry on Intervals. We’ve covered a lot of material.
I’ve used the major scale or key to point out how these intervals can fit into our playing. If an interval isn’t perfect, it can be either major or minor (the difference being a half step). In a Major key, all intervals from the root of the key are major or perfect :
Key of G:
G A B C D E F# G
G to A: Major 2nd (whole step)
G to B: Major 3rd (2 whole steps)
G to C: Perfect 4th
G to D: Perfect 5th
G to E: Major 6th (9 half steps)
G to F#: Major 7th (11 half steps)
G to G: Perfect 8
The same is not true of minor keys – it’s a mixture of major and minor intervals. E minor is the relative major of G and lays out like such:
E F# G A B C D E
E to F#: Major 2nd
E to G: minor third
E to A: P4
E to B: P5
E to C: minor 6th
E to D: Minor 7th
E to E: P8
So using the major scale to demonstrate these intervals is how I like to approach this with my students. And we talked about how to concentrate on each interval in your playing in order to search out new sounds and break out of old playing habits.
So this last column is on P8 – the Octave. An Octave is 12 half steps on the guitar. Have you ever noticed that on nearly all guitars the 12 fret is marked with 2 markers instead of one like on the 5th, 7th, and 9th frets? It’s not an accident, it’s the octave marker where all the open string notes (E A D G B E) repeat an octave higher.
I enjoy playing octaves a lot. It’s a pleasant sounding interval (hey, it’s Perfect! All perfect intervals sound good) and you can do a variety of things with them:
1) Playing octaves like George Benson. George didn’t invent this but he made it popular in the late 70’s on his jazz/pop albums. It’s easy to do – play your first finger on any 3rd string note, then use your 4th finger on the first string 3 frets up. Your left hand touches and mutes the 2nd string. Now move up or down the scale – you’re jazzing it up!
2) Play a lick like this:
3rd string, 7th fret with 3rd finger….bend up, bring it down, pull off to 5th fret and end on 4th string 7th fret. This is lick 1A.
After playing that, take the whole lick an octave higher – 1st string 10th fret, bend, bring it down, pull off to 8th fret and end on 2nd string 10th fret. Then go back and repeat at the lower octave.
This somewhat mimics the “call and response” blues idiom where one musical idea appears “answered” by another.
3) In the A minor pentatonic scale (or A blues scale, depending on your definition) there are 3 A’s in the first position :
6th string 5th fret
4th string 7th fret
1st string 5th fret
Now sometimes I play those three notes consecutively, which is fine. It’s also a real good idea to know where those A’s are since it’s A blues and you are going to resolve (or end) most of your phrases to that note.
Well, that about wraps it up for this blog series on Intervals. We’ve covered the 12 notes of the Western scale. Yes, that’s right, there’s only 12 notes in music and look at all the wonderful music that has been created with 12 tones. Blues, metal, be bop, country, classical, rock, all of it, uses these 12 tones to create their styles. That’s amazing.
Keep in mind it takes time to assimilate any new idea into your playing. Plus, you forget things after a while and don’t use them for long periods of time, and then you might come back to it later. Developing as a musician is a journey that goes on forever, it doesn’t stop. You might love working with certain intervals and not care for using another in your playing. That’s ok – you’re the artist here. It doesn’t mean you have to throw in the kitchen sink in your playing but use your understanding of these concepts to develop your individual style.
Rock on,