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Bo knows: Just Do It!

I have good friend who took up playing guitar two years ago, and has even started collecting (he just bought my Gretsch Electromatic off me). He has often shared his learning journey with me and his process, which has been – for lack of a better word – academic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because implied with an academic approach is a certain amount of discipline, and that’s extremely important in learning just about anything.

But in practically every conversation we’ve had where he’s described to me what he was learning, I’ve always interjected that in the end you just have to “Nike” and “just do it” within the specific context of making music; not composing by any means, but playing songs. After all, why does one learn to play a musical instrument? Certainly not for the mechanics. It’s to make music.

Life in general is like that. There’s a point where you have to apply what you’ve learned or what you’ve planned, or what you’ve envisioned. Several years ago, I heard the saying:

There’s a fine line between dreams and reality, and that’s willingness…

I was inspired by that saying when I first heard it, as I was attending a self-help seminar and the topic at the time was achieving your goals. This was back in the early 90′s when Tony Robbins “Personal Power” was all the rage. I remember it vividly. We spoke about the difference between decision and choice, dreams and reality, and especially the values we each espouse, and how we could apply the concepts to our daily lives to achieve our goals. It was an incredible experience that changed my life forever. And after that seminar, I actually used that saying several times over the years in working with teens and mentoring young professionals.

But a few years ago, I realized that the saying was slightly flawed because with “willingness” you’re still in your head. You’re still just thinking about it. You’re still in that phase of, “Yeah, that’s a great idea, I should do that…” But it’s not until you take action that you’ve physically committed yourself to turning a dream into reality, and experience has taught me that there’s a point where you have to get out of your head, move beyond thinking about doing something and well… DO IT. So I adjusted that saying to this:

The line between dreams and reality is execution…

The “winners” in the world don’t just think. They do.

Whether Type A or Type B, whether hard-charger and seat-of-your-pants or methodical and well-planned; no matter the approach, the people who achieve their goals in life execute. They don’t sit around thinking and talking about what they’re going to do, they do it.

So make like Bo and Just Do It!

you’ve got to do it your way. -Bob Lefsetz in “The Lefsetz Letter”

Wow! What powerful words! I just read these on The Lefsetz Letter, Bob Lefsetz’ commentary on the entertainment business. I’m hooked on his blog. He comes off as a bit of a curmudgeon, but he tells it how he sees it with respect to the industry and making it in the industry, and you know what? Most of what he says is spot-on. Lots of industry folk read what he has to say because for some reason, he has the pulse on the entertainment industry; specifically, the music biz.

But circling back to the title of this article, that phrase struck me because it reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a producer I’m working with on a new project, where I was saying that no matter what guitar I pick up, I sound like me. Different guitars may have different fundamental sounds, but when I manipulate a guitar (read: play), I always sound like – me. And the funny thing is that as the title says, I don’t know how I did it! After 44 years of playing guitar, probably way earlier than that, the way I attack the strings, the way fret and bend, the phrasing that I use; it’s distinctly me, but I couldn’t tell you how I got there. It just happened…

A friend of mine was listening to an instrumental compilation I put together while we were on a road trip (yes, I’m working on an instrumental album), and one observation that he made was that even though I wasn’t singing, he could immediately identify who was playing. That was really cool to me, because though I personally knew at an abstract level that I had a sound that was my own, it was great to get that validation from someone other than myself.

So what’s the point to all this? No, I’m not trying to hand myself some sort of back-handed compliment. I’m fully aware that my technical skill pales in comparison to my guitar gods. And I’m okay with that because with what skills I do possess, I’m making music and playing it my own way, which is the only way I know how to approach music. Yes, I study other players and study their techniques, but when it comes down to execution, but I know it’s me who has to execute, and as much as I’d like to sometimes do what one of my favorite guitarists does, frankly, they probably don’t know or put much thought into how they achieved what they did in the first place. Sure, anyone can go back and analyze what they did after the fact. But at the moment of creation, I’ll venture that they hadn’t a clue as to what they were doing or how they were creating it.

As for myself, with my instrumental project, one thing that I don’t want to do too much of is compose. For instance, when I wrote “The Struggle,”

while I had an idea of what I wanted the basic melody line to be after playing around a bit, when I finally got down to recording over the chord progression, I did it in one take and just let my fingers do the talking. My idea was that I wanted as much of the music to be as spontaneous as possible, while following a general guideline, and perhaps even have one or two unexpected “gotchas” because you never know what you might produce. For instance, around 2:02 of the song, I did this climbing phrase that seems like it fits naturally within the song, but to be completely honest, at that point, I was actually in a slight panic because I wasn’t quite sure where to go, so I just played and slid up the fretboard thinking I could fix it later if I made a mistake. But as it turns out, it fit perfectly. But I couldn’t tell you exactly how I did it. I just did it.

Stevie Ray Vaughn was notorious for this. He was said to have claimed – and I believe it – that he couldn’t duplicate his solos. He listened to the backing music and just… created…

For me, this is crux of being an artist. Don’t get me wrong, if you idolize a particular player and want to get a similar sound, I totally get it. But in the end, you’re the one who has to execute, you’re the one who has to make the sound. Besides, chances are that your idol didn’t know how they did what they did.

velosoEarlier today, a friend of mine introduced me to the music of the famous Brazilian poet, political activist and singer/songwriter, Caetano Veloso. Since then, I’ve had Latin music floating around my brain, and I needed to track something…

So this evening, while practicing with my new BeatBuddy, I set it on a Bossa Nova patch, then started playing around. Within a few minutes, I came up with a cool, jazzy chord progression in Gmaj7 that I laid down on top of the drum track. Plus, I was experimenting with the BeatBuddy’s MIDI sync, so I thought it would be perfect way to get the Latin music tracked, and properly use the BeatBuddy in a recording by synching it with Logic. Here’s the song entitled B-B-B-Bossa Nova Veloso:

The incredible thing about that track was that the drums were recorded live with the BeatBuddy while I played along. Moreover, Logic, my DAW software was keeping time, and sending timing signals to the BeatBuddy, so all the beats were in sync with the measures of the song! Furthermore, all the fills and the transitions were done WHILE I WAS RECORDING!!! I didn’t stop to add another loop segment and “build” the drum track like I normally do. It was all in the BeatBuddy pedal, where I could trigger fills, transitions, and even accents while I played along. Freakin’ incredible!

Yeah, the BeatBuddy is defintely a game-changer. Having a drummer in a box totally sparks my creativity. I don’t have to spend time assembling drum tracks any longer, which takes time, and sometimes kills my creative spark. But with the BeatBuddy, I just listen to a patch, and if it works for me, I just start playing and see where it takes me.

Even if you’re not a gigging musician or don’t record, the BeatBuddy is an incredible tool for practicing. Not only can you practice staying in time, but you can practice your expression as you trigger fills and transitions. This thing’ll help you learn to perform, not just keep you in time! Check it out at mybeatbuddy.com! (and no, I’m not affiliated with the company)

BeatBuddyAs an active performing musician with 75% of my gigs being solo (I do roughly 200 gigs a year), I’m always looking for ways to expand my musical offerings either by introducing new material, or adding new gear. A few years ago, I started using a looper, and that changed the game for me; allowing me to solo over chord progressions I’d come up with live. But one thing that I missed, especially for certain songs, was percussion. Enter the BeatBuddy.

I’ve been waiting for this to arrive for many months, and mine arrived yesterday afternoon (it’s 1AM PST right now), and I’ve been playing with this pedal for the past few hours. It’s truly amazing!

I was impressed with the introductory video, and have been watching the growing number of video demos of various musicians playing with it while it has been in production. But nothing could prepare me for the real thing. I’m so totally blown away, it’s hard to describe what I’m feeling. This is another game-changer for me!

First off, it’s super easy to use. You start out with a tap to get an intro fill. The main beat then starts off. You tap another time to get a fill (most have 3 different fills). To change to the chorus, you hold down the pedal for a second or so. The BeatBuddy then does a lead-in fill, then changes the pattern. You then can tap to get fills in the chorus. To return back to the main pattern, you hold again.

The cool thing is that the fills aren’t restricted to playing just a whole measure. I was concerned about this, as some stuff I play has only 2-beat transitions. But with the BeatBuddy, that’s not a problem. If you tap on “2″ you’ll get a three-beat fill. The damn thing is smart, and will just fill to the end of the measure then go back to the pattern! And like a it keeps perfect time. :)

Here’s something I quickly put together once I got the hang of it. Excuse the little mistakes I made. I did both guitar tracks in single takes.

https://guitargear.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/beat_buddy.mp3

Admittedly, before I start using this in a live setting, I’m going to have to both practice, and find the right drum tracks for the stuff I play. It’s really not hard to find a track to fit a song, but I do know that I’ll probably want to tweak some tracks to fit some songs.

I’m starting to fall asleep, so I’m going to sign off… But please, check out the BeatBuddy web site. Even if you’re not a gigging musician, you could use this just for practice. I know I’m going to do it. It’s better than playing to a metronome because you can add a bit of drama to your playing!

First let’s start with a link to the app because before I even discuss it, and before I even review it, I want to recommend that you get it. :)

Having been a “feel” player for much of my guitar-playing career, a few years ago, I decided that it was high time I looked at my guitar playing a little more academically. It was driven from this sense that I wanted to better understand what I was playing; and perhaps in the process expand my improv vocabulary. So I started buying books on various topics, and watched a lot of videos. All that instruction was great, but what they lacked in many cases was discussions on strategy – when would you apply those concepts. Most take the safe route with “it depends…” Frankly, that’s actually not a bad thing because I’ve found that how I approach soloing at any given time depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is how I’m feeling at the moment I’m going to be playing a solo.

With respect to modes, I’ve read a lot of articles, and gained a bit of an academic understanding of them. But I’m a learn-by-doing and learn-by-example type of player, and there was always some missing ingredient in the things I read. It wasn’t until I found and watched Rob “Chappers” Chapman’s video on Pitch Axis Theory: Learn Modes in 15 Minutes on YouTube that I started really “getting” modes and how they could be applied.

But even Chappers’ videos weren’t enough. Even though they got me over the top with respect to using a modal approach in my playing, I felt that I didn’t fully understand them. Enter “Modal Buddy.”

Modal Buddy is an iOS app (they say it’s made for iPhone, but I’ve been using it on my iPad with no problems) that will help you learn modes. It’s not just a reference guide, which to me would be utterly redundant. Yes, it has LOTS of reference material, but the meat of it is structured like a step-by-step learning guide, replete with chapters. I REALLY like this approach because it makes it more like an interactive book, and not just something that says, “Here’s the E Lydian mode, where E is the 4th, etc., etc., etc.” There’s discussion AND examples.

The examples are ultra-important in learning modes. What I learned with Chappers’ videos is that each mode has an aural “flavor” if you will, and what I was able to internalize about that is you can evoke certain moods depending upon the mode you apply over the root of a chord progression. And to me, that’s the crux of what modes bring to the table: Moods.

So when I started going through Modal Buddy, I was very keen on seeing if the app discusses this. I’m happy to reveal that not only does Modal Buddy capture that sense of moods, it starts off with that discussion as one of the first lessons and keeps emphasizing that in the examples, so you literally can hear the mood that a mode presents. That’s such a huge thing for me because looking back on how I was first presented with modes, everyone taught the spelling of a mode first. Had they shared the root of it, “moods” first, I would have probably started using and applying modes much earlier. As a result, like many, I was intimidated by modes, or relegated them to the “jazz snobs” who seem to live and breathe modes.

I’ve only gone through the first four chapters of Modal Buddy, and only scratched the surface with the practice stuff. I’m not even sure how many chapters there are. And though much of this initial stuff is stuff I already know, I have already learned a great mnemonic for remembering the mode names “I Don’t Play Like My Aunt Lucy,” with each first letter representing the modes: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. That might be old hat to some, and even though I knew the mode names, I always had trouble remembering which mode went where in the order. That simple mnemonic helps me keep them in the proper order.

So what’s the gist of my first impression of Modal Buddy? I LOVE IT!!! At least from what I’ve seen thus far, Modal Buddy combines the best of both worlds: Theory and Examples in one straight-forward and easy-to-use learning guide. And I will say this: Even before I do a full review and breakdown of the app, I recommend you get it. It’ll be the best $4.99 you’ve ever spent. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran. The examples alone will help train your ear to hear the modes in different settings.

Speaking of “hearing” modes, I was curious to hear the Locrian mode. It seems to be the least presented in the discussions and videos I’ve seen. But when I heard the example, I realized I use the Locrian mode – a lot – especially when I’m playing over minor blues progressions because of that diminished, sad sound you get out of it. I had no idea I was using it until I heard an example in Modal Buddy. By the way, the modes are played over actual backing tracks. That’s HUGE in understanding and internalizing modal theory.

Anyway… GET THE APP!

Dug this one up today…

A few years ago, while I was on vacation just on the outskirts of the Portland metropolitan area, and on my way to the Oregon Coast, I happened to stop at a little music store to see what gems they might have (remember, I picked up a gorgeous 1981 ES 335 in a music store in a little town in Northern California). Well, making that stop was fateful because I found the VHT Special 6, a point-to-point, hand-wired, 6 Watt powerhouse that knocked my socks off!

Once I got home, I recorded this song with the amp, using my Les Paul ’58 Historic Reissue. It’s called “Beauty and the Burst,” and it’s a rocker.

The song itself is nothing technically masterful, but when I heard it again after all these years, I had to smile and ask myself, “Where the hell did you pull that one out of?” Enjoy!

Tonight I was reminiscing of becoming a father for the first time, and holding my baby boy in my arms, and suddenly a melody popped into my head that I had to track. I called it “Les Paul Lullaby” because I used both of my beloved Les Pauls to record the song. The finger-picked guitar is my ’59 Replica and the lead guitar is my ’58 Historic Reissue. The ’58′s cleans in the middle position are simply the best I’ve ever heard. The Deacci Green Faze pickups I had installed in that guitar have completely transformed it. The neck pickup is reverse-wound like Peter Green’s Les Paul so you get that out-of-phase tone. Played clean, it’s haunting sound. So check it out…

As far as other gear is concerned. I ran both guitars direct into my Aracom VRX22 then out to an Aracom DRX attenuator, then through a custom 1 X 12 with a Jensen Jet Falcon speaker. I added delay and reverb in my DAW.

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