Sunday, 11 February 2018

No Fear

How does Bob Marley like his doughnuts? With jammin'.

Right, having thus established the baseline for this month's post, things can only improve...

I've been pushing improvisation as big deal with by late-beginner early-intermediate students a lot so far this year, and there's a strong reason why. Thinking back to the early stages of my journey as a guitarist, it really was at first a case of following the tab (bought from a guitar magazine – no internets back in the 90's) and trying to get it to sound vaguely like the song. If I didn't know the song, it was a case of searching for it on cassette (and for those of you young enough to think cassettes are retro-cool, I was there and they were NOT, awful things) or just guessing. At this stage I wasn't really a musician because I had no understanding of what I was doing, I was just following what the book or magazine said.

However, curiosity would periodically get the better of me, and I would take a chord sequence and try putting them in a different order, take a riff I 'd learned (or thought I'd learned) and change the rhythm, fiddle with the chords and find suspensions (not that I knew what they were at that point) – change things around a little to come up with something that was at least partly original.

Motivated by the fact that I found stuff I liked the sound of, I started noticing patterns in the tabs I was trying to pick out – things like the faithful minor pentatonic, and how it would move around the fretboard to match the key of the song (not that I really understood what that was at this point). And I started to try learning the solos – the first one I really got stuck into was “Live Forever” by Oasis, Noel Gallagher's soaring major pentatonic phrases seemed enticingly close but frustratingly out of reach. So I would try and play his solo, and I'd fail. So I'd make a rough stab at making one up using similar notes (which I would later come to realise was the G major pentatonic, although at that point I hadn't really grasped how E minor and G major pentatonic were the same thing seen from different angles).

Here's the thing though – by making up my own solo, I started getting better. MUCH better. Jamming along to first Oasis and Nirvana, then discovering the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin the Eagles Hendrix, Guns 'n' Roses – I began to get a feel for how to use the simple minor and major pentatonic patterns. I discovered the three-frets-back hack (and subsequently had it confirmed by a guitar magazine article). I discovered that even if I couldn't match a Slash solo note for note (and I couldn't), I could still fill the space with something that sounded OK. I developed an intuitive feel for rhythm. I got good enough, in fact, to be accepted for the Access To Music course within 18 months of getting started – and from there, things would never be the same again.

But what got me started? Jamming along. Making mistakes and gradually figuring out ways not to make them again. Taking the riffs and licks of my heroes and bastardising them to match my ability level. What is heartbreaking and frustrating for me as a teacher now is to see students who can't or won't make the leap to just playing, who forget that the process of an instrument is a learning curve- which by definition involves making mistakes because those mistakes themselves are an essential part of the learning process.

So if you're sitting there listening to a song and thinking “I'd love to be able to play that”, then just try – there are only twelve notes, pick a start note that sounds about right and slap a pentatonic pattern across it. You may have to tweak some notes, avoid some others, but it gets you started and that's what's so crucial.


So till next month, good luck and happy jamming!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

2018 Resolutions!

Season's greetings one and all, hope you all had a fantastic couple of weeks break from the real world, lying on the sofa eating and drinking anything and everything that came within range - certainly that's my action plan for the festive season.

So, now we've made it through a whole year of Trump without World War 3 breaking out it's time to start thinking ahead for 2018 and a whole new set of New Year's resolutions. Regular readers of this blog may recall this time last year I laid out a practice plan to cover the whole of 2017 - and staying true to my word, I stuck to it.

The plan covered four key areas - pentatonic scales, diatonic scales, chords and arpeggios - and whilst I'm not sure my technique and fretboard knowledge has been revolutionised, it's been fun making new connections and mapping out new patterns. I've even followed through on my "find something you think you could ever play and learn it" idea - I certainly never thought I'd be able to play anything by the otherworldly talent of Allan Holdsworth, but there we go.

So for 2018? Let's try this:

January – Major scale and modes. 3 octaves, played in 3rds, sequenced in 3s and 4s. Pieces - Freddie King "Hideaway", Bach 

February – Arpeggios (triads). 3 octaves, played in 3rds, sequenced etc. Piece – Bach continued, Satriani, “Summer Song”

March – Chords (triads and inversions, closed and open voicings). Piece – TBC

April – Minor Pentatonic & Modes. Piece TBC

May – Half step /Whole step diminished scale. Piece TBC

June – Arpeggios – 11ths. Piece TBC

July – Chords (11ths and inversions, closed and open voicings). Piece TBC

August – Pentatonics (Kumoi R b2 4 5 b6). Piece TBC

September – Whole Tone scale. Piece TBC

October – Arpeggios – 13ths. Piece TBC

November - Chords (13ths and inversions, closed and open voicings). Piece TBC

December – Pentatonics (Hirajoshi R 2 b3 5 6). Piece TBC.


So as you can see, this plan contains a nice mix of the regular core skills - triads, major scale, minor pentatonic - with a good chunk of yummy new things to try out. As a firm believer in the maxim that "if you want to teach, you have to do", this plan should help keep me fresh and find a whole host of new and interesting treats to give to/ inflict upon (delete as appropriate) my students!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

#TUNEICEF 2017

Betcha thought I'd forgotten this!

As regular readers of his blog will know, for the last few years I've run a project each year involving my students along with local musicians and artists with the intent of producing an album's worth of original material to be released digitally at Christmas, with all the proceeds going to charity - specifically, UNICEF, as I figured as a well established charity they're a safe bet.. they'll know what they're doing and we won't accidentally end up funding ISIS or anything like that.

Being as this is the fifth year in a row I've done this, you'd think I'd be getting the hang of it now - and to be fair, the writing/ recording aspects of it have all gone fairly smoothly (shout out to Matt Chubb for help once again with vocals and lyrics where inspiration had otherwise failed us) and there's a wealth of good stuff on there. The album can be viewed here - https://tuneicef.bandcamp.com/releases - and is available for pre-order, and will be live on Friday 23rd. There's at least one more track to add, with the possibility of another coming in hot from some old friends of mine in Scotland, but here'a s rough guide:

1) Phil Matthews - The Secret Garden.

A charming slice of Kinks-esque folk-pop, this singer/ songwriter/ guitarist has been a stalwart collaborator over the last few years. Check him out here: http://artistecard.com/theVillage

2) Tom Matthews - Stupid Boy

90's grunge agro-pop from one of students! Very proud of him, he's done everything himself - music, lyrics, drums, vocals, keyboard, bass as well as the guitars and pitched in with the mixing, learning as we've gone through the journey. Some serious talent there.

3) The Ladykillers - What You Wish For

An old one of mine, spruced up and brought into the 21st century! Will get around to finishing them all off eventually...

4) Jonezy feat. Matt Chubb

Hi energy rap and hip hop from the inimitable Jonezy featuring our own Matt Chubb on vocals - if you've not seen Jonezy, you owe it to yourself to, he's a phenomenal live performer with a mastery of the ultra catchy hook! Check out the website here: http://jonezyuk.co.uk/

5) The Formidable Ale Society - A Star Is Born

We've all got the useless drunk halfwit friend somewhere in our background - in my case, he can write some tidy songs too! Put this EP together for him, some cracking guitar pop there. https://m.facebook.com/FormidableAleSociety/

6) David Cross - Wiggle Man

One of my students and now guitarist with Moar Beef, David came up with possibly the catchiest riff of the last decade and put together a hauntingly melodic slice of electronica around it.

7) Jess Hegg feat. Matt Chubb - Slide

Another student track, Jess wanted to do something with a cowboy feel, and the dirty detuned slide, delicate arpeggios and stinging pentatonics certainly created a cinematic backdrop for MAtt's typically epic vocals!

8) Craig Thomas - Divided Lines

Another student who seems to have the unconscious knack of creating instantly accessible hooks! Craig took care of all the music save the drums, as well as doing the lyrics, creating a haunting and catchy number around it.

9)  Dave The Rock Band - One Day Go Moon

Never ask a student to do something you won't do yourself! This is my track, more than a little inspired by the Cinderella's "Gypsy Road" for something BIG... and ROCK! http://www.thedave.co.uk/

10) One S0ul - Dark Embrace

Lewis Sawyer of the excellent Loughborough metal outfit The Relinquished with a superbly put together chunk of proper 'eavy metal!

11) Jacob Felton - Dust

A student track, blending acoustic guitar and hip hop drums to great effect.

12) Beth Hartshorne - Sails (Dublin, 1848)

Another student track -  an excellent player and singer/ songwriter in her own right, Beth brings a beautiful produced, atmospheric Celtic-inspired folk song. Check her work out here: https://soundcloud.com/beth-hartshorne

Thanks to all who came down to #TUNEICEF LIVE on Sunday, thanks to Sharon & Ian of The Beacon Inn in Loughborough for having us for the third year in succession - thanks also to Matt Chubb for providing the PA and stepping up to the mic to provide some classic Dave The Rock Band after my throat had pretty much given up hope!

Special thanks to all who performed - Beth, Various Artists (as you were for the day!), Lewis' new project Two People, the inimitable Jonezy and the Dave The Rock Band boys for a sterling performance.

So pop over to https://tuneicef.bandcamp.com/releases , order your copy, enjoy and we'll see you next year!



Monday, 13 November 2017

Chords - Another Way!

Again, not Holdsworth. But I do feel this one is somewhat Holdsworth-adjacent as recently, I've been covering advanced harmony with several different students - lots of big juicy extended chord voicings, deciphering the seemingly indecipherable jazz chords (Cmaj13#11b9, anyone?) and while fun and interesting in it's own right, this has led to some real finger-twisting chord shapes, along with the inevitable question -

"What's the point of these weird chords?"

Now, at this point I could go on a tirade about how knowledge and understanding is it's own reward, how a musician should constantly be striving to push his or her boundaries, how to express themselves with more subtle shades that evoke precisely the right emotion... and to be fair, that's my approach. But, it's not for everyone, and I can appreciate that - it's not my job to force my approach and way of thinking onto a student, it is my job to adapt my approach to theirs so that they can become a better version of themselves, not a clone of me. 

So, rant over, what does this mean in practice? Well, let's take the aforementioned Cmaj13#11b9. 

The major part tells us to expect R 3 5 7, the 13 to expect 9 11 and 13, the #11 to sharpen the 11 and the b5 to flatten the 5. This means we're dealing with R 3 5 7 b9 #11 13. 7 notes. With the best of intentions, there are (usually) only six strings on the guitar. So, we need to trim the fat.

Do we need the root? Yes (unless we have a handy bass player nearby)

Do we need the 3rd? Yes - it defines major or minor.

Do we need the 5? No, the 5 acts as a filler interval, the same through major, minor and dominant.

Do we need the 7? Yes - it defines major or dominant.

Do we need the b9? Yes, specified within the chord name. Normally we could omit this interval as the presence of higher extensions implies it.

Do we need the #11? Yes - again, specified within the chord name. Normally the presence of the 13 would imply it, however, allowing us to omit.

Do we need the 13? Yes, as the highest extension.

So that's trimmed us down to something that will at least fit on a guitar neck:

R 3  7 b9  #11 13
C E B Db F#  A

That said, it's still not exactly something you would consider wieldy. But who says you have to play all of the chord all of the time? Let's look inside this chord:

C E B - Cmaj7 (no 5)

E B Db - E6

B Db F# - Bsus2

Db F# A - F#m (2nd inversion)

F# A C - F# diminished

A C E - Am

Now these (admittedly some more than others) are all fairly usable triads, and played over a C bass (if you haven't got a bass player handy I suggest capo'ing at the third fret and letting the A string ring out  as a pedal tone) they will act together to imply this most monstrously lunatic of chords, and you may even find yourself stumbling across a useful riff or two in the process! 

(Disclaimer - JM Guitar Tuition is NOT responsible for the loss of whole evenings breaking down bizarre chords in search of your next killer hook...)