Posts Tagged ‘guitar lifestyle’

The title roughly translates into “honesty in singing or playing a musical instrument.” I’m constantly coming to terms with my own playing and singing – especially when I’m doing my solo gigs. And while I’m not the best singer and God knows I’ve got a long way to go before I truly consider myself a great guitarist, one thing that I’ve always strived for is honesty in my performance; that is, I want to stay true to myself while I’m performing. That’s not to say I’m not open to learning new stuff. I’m an eternal student when it comes to music. But when I’m performing, what possesses me is expressing a song or my part of a song in an honest way. I guess you might say, just being me in the song, and expressing it in my own unique way. For me, that’s not many bells and whistles and it’s not many tricks. I wouldn’t call it a comfort zone per se; I just do my best to express a song from my collective experience, not trying to do what someone else might do; though admittedly, my musical influences definitely come out when I play, however subconsciously that may be.

I’ve had many years to develop that sense of honesty, and it comes from being attracted to the sound of musicians over the years who I believe have taken an honest approach to their music. To name a few, musicians such as Elvis Costello, Sting, James Taylor, Peter Frampton, Peter Gabriel, Elton John, John Lennon, Paul Simon, Joe Satriani, Santana, Journey, Sarah McLachlan, U2 and, of course, Neil Young, whom I wrote about yesterday. I know, it’s kind of an eclectic mix of musicians, but that’s the beauty of it! Each of these musicians has their own sound, their own approach to making and playing music. I love Elvis Costello’s versatility, the cerebral nature of Peter Gabriel. But one thing that commonly resounds between all these musicians is an almost uncompromising drive to write and play music on their own terms.

For instance, I had the good fortune to catch a broadcast of Elvis Costello doing Burt Bacharach music – with Burt on the piano! He took some timeless tunes from the Bacharach and David period and sang the shit out of them! At a Sting concert several years ago, after opening up with the expected “All This Time” from the Soul Cages tour, he surprised the entire crowd by breaking out into Purple Haze! It freakin’ ROCKED!!! It didn’t sound like Jimi – it was all Sting and his band.

When I first heard Sarah McLachlan, I was absolutely blown away. This was a chick who had a totally new take on pop. And while she experienced considerable success for a short period of time, what most people didn’t know was that before “In the Arms of the Angels,” she had a few albums to her credit that up until that time saw very little commercial success though lots of critical acclaim. But I thought that some of her best work came from her earlier albums. Like the others mentioned, she writes and performs music on her own terms!

The point to all this is that I’ve learned an important lesson in my own performance. I can only be who I am, and not someone else. I can only sound and play like me. It’s daunting and even humbling realizing how much I DON’T know, yet it’s also what inspires me to keep getting better and developing my own musicality. When I work with younger musicians, I always tell them to never be afraid to experiment, to break out of the patterns of their lessons. The lessons are great; let’s make no mistake about it, but music is expression. The very nature of music is such that how it is performed is a highly subjective, interpretive affair. Mechanics will only take you so far. You need only look at some of the names I’ve mentioned, and you’ll see what I mean.

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yodaAh, Padawan. Come to receive the wisdom of the ages, you have I see. Into the realms of guitar playing greatness delve deep do you wish; to play among the stars of guitar such as Vai, Satriani, Johnson and others of that ilk. Good for you! Welcome you with open arms, do I. Now dispensed with the pleasantries have we Padawan, it is time to let you down…

  1. There is no magic wand I can wave to make you great
  2. Wish all you want, and you’ll never become a guitar god.
  3. Meditate on the virtues of truly great guitarists – It will do you no good.

Now that sufficiently crushed your dreams of guitar greatness have I, tell you I will the secret to achieving your place among the titans:

There are no shortcuts!!!


Okay, enough of the Yoda talk… 🙂

To be completely serious, if you want to be a great guitarist, there is no other way to get to greatness without dedication and focus. Simply put, you have to practice – a lot! You can learn all the theory in the world, you can take all the A/V classes out there. All of these things are absolutely helpful. But until you apply the things that you learn and master the techniques, you’ll never get there.

Playing guitar, or any instrument for that matter, isn’t something that you can be good at simply by intellectualizing being good. It takes practice – every day – to develop the skills to play well. I look on my own experience with playing guitar. Yeah, I’ve been playing for over 35 years, but I’ve only reached a certain level of proficiency in the last five years when I decided that I wanted to change the direction of my music, which was almost entirely acoustic, to include more electric guitar.

The experience in the last five years has been both rewarding and painful. When I was starting out, it was so frustrating because I could hear in my head what I wanted out of my guitars, but I didn’t have the technique. So I put my head down, so to speak, and started playing and practicing everyday, seven days a week. I’d even bring a couple of guitars and an amp on vacation! I try to play at least a half-hour each day. It’s not necessarily just straight practice of scales, and different techniques, I also spend a lot of time exploring how to express music that comes into my head.

I’m still learning. I feel I have so much further to travel, but I have also come a long way compared to where I was five years ago. Back then, all I knew were chords and playing chords in alternate tunings. I could fingerpick pretty well, and do a lot of stuff with an acoustic guitar – that’s all great, and I don’t want to discount what I could do on acoustic, but my abilities on the electric guitar, especially with doing improv, were sorely lacking. But from constant practice, I can do at least a basic lead in pretty much any key. That’s the reward; having the satisfaction of knowing I’ve made a lot of progress.

I originally got the inspiration for this article from a blog entry I read at GuitarVibe. It really got me thinking about what I’ve accomplished over the past few years, and moreover, how I got to where I am. Like with anything in life, learning is often fraught with moments of despair and discouragement, but it also has its times of complete satisfaction and reward.

So go practice, young Padawan, and may the Force be with you!

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Gear-aholic. Tone Freak. Gear Maniac. At least that is what I have been called. I like to think of myself as a “Tone Crusader.”

I comb the ethers in search of implements to try to catch the unicorn called “Tone.” And since tone has so many faces, I need different kinds tools to help me catch the unicorn.  Thus, I have an arsenal of axes, both custom and commonly available; a bank of sound amplification devices to announce my presence with special foot pedals to alter my sound to affect a different response.

I spend hours upon hours developing and honing my skills, and learning how to most effectively use my tools. I am a warrior who must constantly be at the ready to perform.

And like the Crusaders of old, my quest for the tone unicorn is a life-long pursuit that has been fraught with both times of extreme joy and with days of dark dispair. But despite its ups and downs, I cannot even begin to imagine abandoning this pursuit! I’ve seen the unicorn! I have even come close to touching it! And until I do touch it, I will never give up. Never!!!

I fully realize that I may go to my grave without ever catching the unicorn. But it is not the goal that matters to me in any case; it is the journey that matters.

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New Year's ResolutionI normally don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Haven’t done it in years. I’ve always felt there was something innately dishonest about making resolutions like “I’m going to be a better person,” or “I’m going to do something nice for someone everyday.” Not that those aren’t noble pursuits, but in a lot of cases, they demand an enormous amount of self-discipline, self-sacrifice and changes in normal behavior that most of us can’t persevere. We’re good for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks, but something will happen and it all goes to pot.

In lieu of lofty resolutions, I’ve instead set concrete goals that in order to achieve, require changes in behavior and changes in thinking. I’ll share some of these goals here:

  • I will continue on my five-year plan of getting on the road and touring. I’m just starting my third year in the plan, and it’s going pretty well. I’ve release an album, and am working on my second one; a few of the songs of which I’ve entered into an international songwriters competition. I don’t expect to win, but the feedback that I get will be invaluable. Furthermore, going on the road will require that I get in shape, so I have been eating better and getting exercise in anticipation of going back on stage. I love to eat, so this has been a tough thing for me, but I’ve lost 25 lbs so far, so I’m well on my way.
  • I will study more music theory; especially scalar modes. I already started doing this a few months ago, but really want to master it in the coming year. First, because I want my improvisation to be better, and with an understanding of the intervalic nature of music, I’ll be able to move around the fretboard much easier. I don’t want to necessarily learn patterns that I chain together, I want to get to the point where I can jam in any key, and be confident that the next note I hit works well harmonically and musically with what I’m improvising. Also, mastering scales and modes will make me a better teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I have a very firm intellectual understanding of music theory, and can actually cold read charts, but in actual execution, I feel I’m lacking, so my aim is to meld the two.
  • I will have a custom amplifier built for me. I’m currently working with Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps to build me an amp around his RoxBox 18 Watt design. I’m “going off the reservation” with this one because I want a different speaker than what he offers, a bigger cabinet and a reverb tank, plus a built-in resistive attenuator for low volume applications. If you haven’t checked out the RoxBox, I suggest you do. It’s a great 18 Watt design that’s also a great value stock.
  • I will purchase a Reason amp. Not sure which will come first: Having Jeff finally construct my amp, or purchasing a Reason. I love the SM25 I have right now, but since I’m a StackMode freak, I’m also leaning towards the SM40 head. We’ll see.
  • I will have Adam Hernandez at Saint Gutiars build me a guitar. I’m so grateful to be able to test Adam’s guitars. We’ve already talked about what I might like in a guitar, but I really want one of my own.
  • As far as GuitarGear.org is concerned, I will rebuild the site to make it a lot easier to find things. I’ve already started doing this, but I really need to rethink the design of the site. I will probably go to a three-column layout so I can get more things “above the line” that is, the part of a page that you first see when a web page loads. Right now, the site is a bit narrow, so lots of things fall below the line that I’d like people to see; especially the companies I personally endorse.

Okay, that’s it for me. Anyone willing to share?

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