Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year


    It's the end of another year, and also the end of a decade.  This is a particularly special time for me, as it marks a whole decade of a music-focused life for me.  I have learned so much since I began playing guitar 10 years ago.  At times it was overwhelming, and sometimes downright frustrating, but I persevered.  I persevered for the love of the music.  Through my determination I have met many, many great and warm individuals.  Every single person I have come in contact with in the past decade has had a role in shaping the music I create and play.  I send my thanks to these individuals.

    Usually people will look back on the year on this day and think of everything they could have done better.  I propose that instead of focusing on what you didn't do last year, focus on what you will do this coming year.  Write a masterpiece!  Play to a sold out crowd!  Meet your musical inspiration!  Reach for the impossible!  Remember, automobiles were once impossible, as was sending men into space, computers, phones, the list goes on and on.  What seems unreachable today could very likely be realized tomorrow.

    Just go for it!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jazz Guitar Primer

    I just came across an excellent article over at written as an introduction to jazz guitar music.  It was written by Dr. Matt Warnock, a professor of jazz guitar at Western Illinois University. He shows 8 guitarists and how they influenced the music, and even includes some videos of each guitarist.  Good read.

The article can be found here.
Matt Warnock's website can be found here.

Practical Melodic Minor Harmony part III: The Minor II-V-I

    A minor II-V-I progression is different than the II-V-I progression in major scale harmony.  When dealing with the progression in a major key, all three chords of the II-V-I are derived from the same major scale.  For example, in C major the progression would be Dmin7 - G7 - CMaj7.  A minor II-V-I usually consists of a half-diminished chord as II, an alt chord as V, and a minor-major chord as I.  Unlike the major II-V-I, however, all three chords from the minor version of the progression come from three different melodic minor scales.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Practical Melodic Minor Harmony part II: Chord for Chord

    Once you've learned the modes of melodic minor and how they function, we can get down to business.  Unlike major scale harmony, there are no notes in the melodic minor scale that clash with the harmony of any of the chords of the scale.  This means that just about anything you play using melodic minor over one of it's chords can also be played on any of the other chords.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Practical Melodic Minor Harmony Part I: The Modes

    Although a number of my recent posts on this blog have stressed concepts related to "melodic thinking" rather than generic "scale-on-chord" thinking, I will risk sounding hypocritical by explaining the melodic minor scale by means of chord/scale theory.  As I said before, the scale on chord approach of the chord/scale theory is not at all invalid or undesired, but is yet another concept within the palette of improvisational tools.  Although I believe the guide-tone approach superior to the chord/scale approach, I find the latter to be much more useful for analysis than the former.

    Let's begin by comparing the melodic minor scale to the major scale.  Looking at them from a literal viewpoint, there is only one note that differs between the two scales: the 3rd.  The melodic minor scale is like the major scale except that the 3rd is flatted, however, the two scales have very different sounds.  The melodic minor scale sounds much darker and, depending on the usage, has sort of an eastern tinge to it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Can Guide-Tones Do For You?

    A previous post on this blog addressed the absence of melody in much of today's improvised music.  Then I went on to write another post on a method by Lee Konitz for using the melody of a tune to build a solo from.  In this lesson I will introduce a concept similar to Konitz's method, except we will use guide-tones as the support for a solo.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Intervals and Ratios


    I've always been fascinated by the crossover of music and math.  In this article, I will attempt to explain how intervals can be expressed as ratios. This can also be looked at as an introduction to understanding the mathematical nature of music.  The ratios found in this article are based on the very same ratios that Pythagoras discovered by dividing a vibrating string, so that is where I will begin.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Play the Blues

  I'm not sure who, but someone said that you should always try to play the blues, no matter what kind of music you are playing.  I agree it does sound a bit weird, but we can derive an important meaning, or philosophy of improvising, from this statement.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Myspace Page is Up

    I came to the decision today that it is time for me to jump on the internet bandwagon so I made a myspace profile.  You can find it here.  There is not much there as of yet, just one song.  Hopefully it will prove to be a useful networking tool for me.  If it doesn't, at least it's another place showing my name is on the internet ;-)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Do You have GAS?


    Many times, as musicians, we find ourselves in a rut.  It's like you hit a brick wall in your progress and just can't figure out how to climb over it.  No matter what we try to do, that wall just seems to get stronger and eat away at our minds, and sometimes even push us to go back and consider who we really are, or why we do what we do.  It seems like there's no way out, nowhere to turn.  

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Keeping a Practice Journal

    Ok this time I really am going to write about keeping a practice journal.  As I said before, keeping a journal such as this is something that I've always considered.  Well, now I am keeping one.  Since it's been going well so far, I will share with you what exactly I've been doing with it and how I've been tracking my progress.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Motivate Me

    As I mentioned in my last post, I recently started keeping a practice journal.  As you may already know, I am a big fan of Dave Liebman, and he advocates keeping a journal of what you are practicing to track your progress.

    Keeping a practice journal is not new to me, as I have started one before.  The keyword here being started.  Yes, start one is all I did.  I maybe got 2 or 3 entries in and lost motivation.  It would seem that I was more in love with the idea of keeping a journal than actually keeping one.  I mean, what aspiring musician doesn't like the idea of of getting better?  I sure don't know any.

    I gave it some thought and came to the conclusion that my philosophy of motivation may be at fault here, as opposed to my actual motivation.  I mean, keeping a practice journal is something that I really want to do, so that alone should (in theory) mean I am motivated to do so, or else I just subconsciously don't want to keep a journal.  But that isn't the case at all.

    My new philosophy of motivation is that motivation can be learned.  This is not concurrent with what I used to think about motivation, which was as simple as either being motivated or not and that was it.  On the contrary, I now see motivation as a skill, and not a trait.  By forcing myself into keeping up in my journal on a regular basis, I found that I had to force myself less and less each day, until it became habit. Once it became a habit, I found that each day I looked forward to writing in my journal more and more, thus demonstrating motivation.

    Thinking this way is very liberating for me, because I used to stress about not being motivated for something I should have been motivated for, such as practicing a certain scale or chord.  This would often lead to actually putting off practicing for days at a time which made me more and more depressed to the point that it took too much energy for me to even think about the guitar.

    But now I have grown older and realize that motivation is something that can be helped through work and repetition.  However, that's not to say that listening to John Coltrane or Allan Holdsworth doesn't motivate me to make music, it's just that sometimes you need a way to motivate yourself which, I think, is the most difficult form of motivation.

    It seems I have gotten off topic from what I intended to write about, which was keeping a practice journal, but it's just as well.  Everyone needs some extra motivation from time to time.  I guess I will have to write about practice journals in the next post.  Until then, find out what keeps you motivated.



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ear Training Solution

   Keeping a journal of my practice routine (more on that to come)  is something I started doing recently and it has helped me a lot in determining what kind of material to practice on a given day.  It has also revealed many weaknesses to me that I was not particularly aware of.  One weakness that was made apparent to me is my aural abilities, so I decided to come up with my own resource for ear training.

Monday, December 7, 2009

CAGED System part IV: The Major Scale (level:beginner - intermediate)

    Welcome to the 4th installment of the CAGED series.  Last time we learned the pentatonic forms and how they relate to the chord forms.  Now all we need to do is find out how the major scale is formed from the pentatonic scales.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Can You Crack Elgar's Code?

      Edward Elgar was an English born composer in the late 19th/early 20th century.  He is most known for composing "Pomp and Circumstance" and the "Enigma Variations."  He was also very interested in codes and puzzles.

    The code you see above is actually a letter Elgar sent to his friend Dora Penny, who is known as Dorabella of the Enigma Variations.  This letter was, and still is, one of the greatest mysteries in cryptography.  The code remains unbroken even today, as many of the world's top cryptographers have tried and failed to crack it.

    Can you crack Elgar's code?

CAGED System part III: Scale Forms (level:beginner - intermediate)

    In the previous installment on the CAGED system, I covered basic chords and how they fall into the pattern.  This post will cover the major scale and demonstrate how the 5 basic chord forms are actually part of 5 major scale forms.  You will see that just like the chord forms, the scale forms are also moveable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

10 Steps to "Pure Inspiration"

    In response to my previous post on the absence of melody in today's practice of improvisation, I thought I would share with you a method I discovered  a few years ago by Lee Konitz which involves 10 different levels of alteration or embellishment to a melody.  Lee Konitz was the alto sax man on Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions as well as a sideman to many great jazz musicians.

Where's My Melody?

    I was thinking today about the current practice of jazz improvisation and where it sits within the entire tradition of jazz.  The music has certainly come a long way since the birth of the great "American Songbook."  What sticks out to me the most is the multitude of improvisational concepts present within the music today, which there are about as many as there are artists who improvise.

    The past 20+ years seem to have been dominated by the chord/scale theory, where the improvisational material is dependent upon the chord that is being sounded.  This implies that each chord in a progression produces its own improvisational material.

    The chord/scale theory is a great tool that gives you a huge palette of colors to use in improvisations, but that is what it is supposed to be: a TOOL.  Many aspiring musicians, myself included, read so far into this concept that it becomes the essence of improvisation itself.  This is not surprising, though, seeing as how the universities shove it down your throat as if it is the only concept worth knowing, and most of the "brand name" books try to copy the universities.

    The implementation of the chord/scale theory shortens the amount of time it takes for the aspiring jazzer to learn to play over changes, however it is sacrificial to the art of playing melody.  Sure you have all these great colors and substitutions at your fingertips, but if you can't string them together into a meaningful melody, what's the point?  You might as well announce to your audience "now we are going to improvise over a iii-vi-ii-V in Ab."

    Because of the over-saturation of the chord/scale theory in jazz education, the art of playing melody is often overlooked or under-emphasized.  I believe the reason is that it is very difficult to teach somebody how to play melody, as it is a highly personal matter.  Coming up with a meaningful melody on the spot is a skill that can really only be obtained through experience of actually doing it.

    All the scales, chord extensions and substitutions that come with the chord/scale theory are great, but they are to be used as a tool to enhance a melody, and not to exist as the melody.  Take a second and read that sentence again.  The most important part of a song is the melody.  Cats like Miles, Trane, and Bird knew that and followed it.  They all built their solos from the melody of the song, and that made it more memorable and more meaningful because it actually made sense within the context of the song itself.

    There are way too many cats today who sound like machines.  They know all sorts of weird and crazy licks and scales and use them all the time over all sorts of non-functional progressions.  I'm not saying that it doesn't take much skill to play things like that because it takes a tremendous amount of practice and skill to be able to play things like that.  I'm just wondering what happened to the music?

    Music isn't supposed to be about how much you know or how fast you can play or what kinds of weird scales you can fit over different chords.  Music is supposed to be about your experiences, your feelings, your wisdom.  You have to live it.