Hi everyone, welcome to my first post in my blog! This marks the end of a long writer’s block for me, so let me dive right in and tell you first how about how you came to be reading this.
The real beginning of this idea of writing about guitar started during a week spent on a gig in Boston, Massachusetts during August 2016 and one night catching up over drinks with my cousin and his fiancé. I grew up watching my dad play guitar in church but my cousin was the first person around my age that I knew who was playing guitar. I was about 13 years old when he brought his dad’s solidbody Ovation electric with a small Marshall practice combo to my aunt’s and uncle’s house on top of a mountain in Bethany, Connecticut over Labor Day weekend 2003. The memory I have is very vivid and involves hearing this new vocabulary; words like “humbuckers” and “distortion”. He played the riff to the title track off then new Metallica single, St. Anger. St. Anger is usually regarded as a low point in Metallica and not just by me, but something about hearing the Power of the Riff for the first time and realizing that all it probably would take was some figuring out captured me and it wasn’t long before I was playing an acoustic guitar in my room; trying to emulate heavy metal and progressive rock guitar.
Back to 2016 – the week in Boston lead to the opportunity to speak to a high school music class about working in the music industry and things they could do to put themselves on the right path. I was happy to find the audience receptive and engaged and it put me back in that same place of being a kid and wanting to soak up as much information as possible. A few talks and private lessons in Nashville later, on top of balancing a hectic schedule of gigs and raising a toddler with his incredible mother, I decided that it was time to pursue both writing about guitar and teaching independently. This blog is my first effort towards those goals.
I read a great passage written by Frederick Nietzsche once from his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra about the teacher student relationship while I studying guitar at Belmont University. Without the proper context of who Zarathustra is, this might come off as overwhelming, but the line in bold happened to really resonate with me. :
“I now go away alone, my disciples! You too now go away and be alone! Thus I want it.
Truly, I advise you: go away from me and guard yourselves against Zarathustra! And better still: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he has deceived you.
The man of knowledge must not only love his enemies, he must also be able to hate his friends.
One repays a teacher badly if one always remains only a pupil. And why, then, should you not pluck at my laurels?
You revere me; but what if your reverence tumbles one day? Beware that a statue does not strike you dead!
You say you believe in Zarathustra? But of what importance is Zarathustra? You are my believers: but of what importance are all believers?
You had not yet sought yourselves: then you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to so little.
Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you.”
Is the goal of education when it comes to a craft, such as music, to churn out a bunch of clones who only do things the way they’re taught?
Or is it to produce critical thinkers who can use the techniques of ways of learning to ultimately achieve mastery on the level of their teacher?
I will be writing posts and making short videos that address harmony, scales, technique, rhythm, tone, and other elements of musicality in from a perspective that aims for the reader to absorb not only the material, but to also be able to explore the concept on their own. I’ll also write about other players, records, and the music business. Ultimately, I’d like to hear from my audience. If there’s an area of guitar or music in general you’d like a new take on, please reach out to me and help guide my content. Drop me a line in the comment box on the “Contact” page, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With all of that said and out of the way, let’s dig in on an important aspect of music that the young player can easily overlook and a way you can work to improve your playing in this aspect TODAY, no matter what instrument you play, vocalists included.
This is a very wide subject so I am certain I will spend a lot of time and many posts exploring rhythm. Today I want to show the reader a practical exercise that will improve one’s rhythmic playing.
Music theory is often taught in a way that focuses on harmony. Harmony to me can be looked at vertically when studying chords and horizontally when studying scales. When I was learning how to play guitar, I played to a metronome but the things that I practiced were just drills. I did various sequences with 8th notes, 16th, notes, triplets, etc etc that gave me decent dexterity on the fretboard and reinforced what notes corresponded to what mode or key or scale I was practicing, but it all disappeared as soon as I would play with other musicians. I had chops playing guitar when I was playing by myself but it didn’t translate the way I wanted it to with live bullets. This was because my practice had completely neglected giving any attention to improving my rhythm.q
Many years later I came up with a simple exercise that had immediate results. To do this, you need a metronome. You can type “metronome” into any search engine on your phone, tablet, or computer and from there one can find any number of free metronomes online or you can buy one with ease from any major music retailer. What we’re going to do is use the metronome to emulate the sound of a drummer hitting the snare drum. Most of the time, you’ll be playing music either in a jamming situation with your friends or on a gig with a drummer and setting the metronome to mimic the snare is a great way to recreate that for your own practice. Figure out the tempo that you want to play at, then take it and divide it in half. IE: If the desired tempo is 100 BPM, set the metronome to 50 BPM and lock in to it so it falls on beats 2 and 4 of a bar of 4/4 time. Keep time mentally and physically by slightly rocking along with the beat. Once you feel locked in, play.
You can use this exercise to practice scales, chords, songs, technique, anything you can think of. When I do it, I improvise a lead line with the metronome and it has helped me be able to lock in with a drummer live. You can have all of the chops in the world, but no one cares about your hot lick if you’re not in time. This exercise will help develop a habit of really listening to and feeling the groove and rhythm of what you’re playing, thus helping you to play in time with other players.