The­ory God­mother

David Mead ad­dresses your tech­ni­cal, mu­si­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal is­sues.

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

Al­ter­nate Life­style? Dear The­ory God­mother

I’ve been work­ing on my speed and want to play quickly enough to make a de­cent job out of cov­ers of the rock songs I like.

But what to learn? When I start to learn pieces that I like, I of­ten find my­self strug­gling, even though I can play fast enough while prac­tis­ing.

So I spend hours strug­gling on one or two so­los that are prob­a­bly too hard for me and not learn­ing stuff that is more ap­pro­pri­ate. Do you have any tips for choos­ing pieces that are right?

Matt This is one of the more dif­fi­cult as­pects of teach­ing yourself, Matt. In or­der to progress on the in­stru­ment you need to strike a bal­ance be­tween ma­te­rial that you’re com­fort­able with, and the more chal­leng­ing up­ward gra­di­ent nec­es­sary to move for­ward. In other words, this means that you have to pick pieces to work on that present a few ob­sta­cles to stretch your tech­nique, while keep­ing one foot on solid ground. This lit­tle by lit­tle ap­proach has proved ef­fec­tive in the past and continues to do so to­day - but it’s dif­fi­cult to do on your own.

When you teach yourself you sac­ri­fice ob­jec­tiv­ity; you’re alone with your play­ing and it’s very hard to see ex­actly where you fit in and where to go next in or­der to progress. This is where a good teacher can help im­mea­sur­ably as he or she will be able to see the level that your play­ing has reached and be able to for­mu­late a plan to move you for­ward. This will of­ten be a com­bi­na­tion of tech­ni­cal ex­er­cises that will make you sweat a bit, and pieces that push you onto new ground. If it’s done right, you won’t even re­alise how far you’ve pro­gressed un­til you look back at where you were pre­vi­ously.

So my ad­vice would be to seek out a good teacher and ask if you can have a short se­ries of lessons to as­sess your tech­ni­cal level and set you on the path to­wards mak­ing some head­way. This should give you enough in­er­tia to go back to teach­ing yourself know­ing how to reach your goals more re­al­is­ti­cally. You should then nat­u­rally be able to se­lect the ap­pro­pri­ate level songs to learn - by in­stinct. I re­alise that this prob­a­bly isn’t what you want to hear, but trust me - there isn’t a quick and easy so­lu­tion to this and hav­ing some­one there who is ex­pe­ri­enced in pac­ing your play­ing is a sure fire way of achiev­ing your goals.

The Joys Of Jazz… Dear The­ory God­mother

I’ve read so many letters in your col­umn about people hav­ing trou­ble when they try to learn jazz - and I’m afraid I’m go­ing to add one more!

I’ve been play­ing now for around ten years and have be­come a fairly pro­fi­cient rock and blues player and de­cided that I want to ven­ture out a lit­tle more and try my hand at play­ing jazz. The play­ers I en­joy in this area are John Scofield and Pat Martino and I have been to see a cou­ple of con­tem­po­rary jazz play­ers like Phil Rob­son, too.

The trou­ble is, whereas I can usu­ally work out so­los and riffs in the rock medium, when it comes to jazz I can’t even hum it to my­self - I can’t seem to con­cep­tu­alise what’s go­ing on and I end up frus­trated. Be­ing an ex­pe­ri­enced teacher, what would you ad­vise me to do to solve this prob­lem?

James As you can prob­a­bly imag­ine, this is some­thing I’ve ad­dressed be­fore dur­ing the 30 years or so that I’ve been in­volved with teach­ing. So much so, in fact, that I’ve dis­cov­ered what I think is the root of the prob­lem when it comes to mak­ing a smooth tran­si­tion be­tween play­ing rock and in­tro­duc­ing a lit­tle jazz into your style - and be­lieve it or not it’s all down to per­cep­tion…

I re­alise that I’m gen­er­al­is­ing here, but I think it’s fair to say that most of the blues ori­en­tated rock out there is based around the mi­nor pen­ta­tonic scale. There might be a few vari­a­tions - blue notes and so on, but it’s the mi­nor pen­ta­tonic that em­beds it­self into our con­scious­ness first and fore­most.

To this ex­tent, any mu­sic that is pen­ta­ton­i­cally based be­comes easy to recog­nise and, as our fin­gers and ears be­come more ex­pe­ri­enced, we find it fairly easy to work out on the fret­board. But the short­fall here is that the pen­ta­tonic scale is only five notes out of a po­ten­tial 12 (Ex 1, A ma­jor pen­ta­tonic). So there are seven notes of the chro­matic scale that are not used quite so of­ten - and so when we en­counter them, they’re more dif­fi­cult to process.

Some play­ers will stay with their pen­ta­tonic al­pha­bet quite hap­pily and learn to in­clude a few ‘guest’ notes ev­ery so of­ten - but even if they move on to the full di­a­tonic scale, there are still some notes miss­ing. I’ve found in the past that even if I in­tro­duce stu­dents to the ba­sic ‘starter pack’ of scales - ma­jor and mi­nor pen­ta­tonic, ma­jor and mi­nor di­a­tonic (Ex 2) - they still have trou­ble as­sim­i­lat­ing jazz. I be­lieve that this is be­cause jazz is a chro­mat­i­cally based mu­sic and the ears need to be ex­posed to the full chro­matic scale in both the­ory and prac­tice be­fore it be­comes pos­si­ble to tell ex­actly what’s go­ing on. Even with the scales I’ve listed, you’re still go­ing to be five notes short of the full chro­matic scale (Ex 3).

So ini­tially you need to lis­ten to as much jazz as you can. Not only in­clude the chro­matic scale in your prac­tice rou­tine but learn to sing it, too; lit­er­ally put the notes in­side your head and learn to speak them. Get hold of some tran­scrip­tions of jazz so­los and work through them slowly. Grad­u­ally your ear will take on board the new in­for­ma­tion and you’ll find tran­scrib­ing and play­ing jazz be­comes eas­ier and eas­ier, and pretty soon licks like the one in Ex 4 will have a real mean­ing for you!

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