Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Focus on Rhythm Guitar Improves Lead Guitar

A good friend of mine was in the buffet line with his father and they came upon a mystery dish in the lineup. His father asks the hot table attendant “what’s that” to which the attendant replies “hotdish.” “Oh, hotdish” replies his father and he proceeds to load up his plate. Those from Minnesota may understand this better than others (hotdish is sort of like a casserole) but I recently discovered that rhythm; not the “who could ask for anything more” type but specifically Rhythm Guitar, could be like “hotdish” when it comes to improvisation techniques.

I bought one of the “Guitar World Presents” DVD packages, Blues DVD Vol. 1 some time back. The cover has slogans such as “Sting like Albert King”, “Rip Like Stevie Ray Vaughan”, and “Wail like Eric Clapton” which do not imply a treasure trove of Rhythm Guitar technique lurks within. Nonetheless, Andy Aledort takes you through a great primer on blues rhythm guitar basics; 12-bar blues form, root fifth, root sixth chords, root flat seventh, and walking bass figures. He closes the primer with approaches to turnarounds including a straight forward but cool sounding walking figure up to the 5 chord. In E blues this was E, G (with a half step bend up to G#), A, b flat, B and goes on to comment how this riff is common to all different kinds of blues in all tempos; a staple of the blues guitar sound. In other words, hotdish!

If there are staples of the blues guitar sound it follows that one should incorporate these staples into one's improvisation if you want the listener to know they are hearing the blues. No different than my friend’s father knew he was getting hotdish in the buffet line rather than a mystery dish. So, I experimented with using this walking figure at different areas of the fretboard and then incorporating it into playing over a 12 - bar 1,4,5 blues progression and dang if it didn’t sound a lot more like the blues when I played it back! Lots more exploring to be done but a promising start.

Thanks to Andy Aledort I got another set of fundamentals to start working on with the added benefit of a “hotdish” moment to help me think outside the “box” on improvisation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Metronome; There’s a Reason Everyone Says to Use It

Life is accompanied by advice; usually lots of it. Floss regularly and eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables are two prominent examples. All good advice; so good in fact that we all acknowledge it while ignoring it at the same time; how many of us flossed this morning for example? “Use a metronome when you practice” is another one of these ubiquitous knowledge nuggets. I am not here to outline all the reasons to use a metronome; plenty of people (all people) will tell you that. All I'm here to say is actually do it!

Sure, I've paid lip service to the metronome, and nod knowingly any time I receive sage advice on the importance of its use. I have one of course, just like I have a roll of dental floss in the bathroom cabinet. My initial use of the device was solely around a quest for speed; starting scales at one speed and continually increasing the speed until I would have a blow out. The outcome was always the same though, an eventual blowout, which was more of a negative feedback loop than I wanted to deal with so I stopped using it. Recently I got the metronome back out in observance of my new found focus on the basics and realize there is something to it like all good advice.

When practicing I tend to wander all over the place on tempo. If I'm practicing a particular song I'll stop for a do over as soon as I hit a clam. Another prominent artifact is the tendency to slow down in front of a difficult section. That usually has the same result as when you see an athlete hesitate before the big jump at the X Games, a spectacular wipeout. The big discovery was that using a metronome for pacing in a practice session made the playing a lot more enjoyable and consistent as it removes the opportunity to hesitate before a jump.

So, tomorrow start your day by flossing, throw in some servings of fruits and vegetables and then dig out that metronome (I know you have one). You'll be glad you did!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix of the Accordion

Let me start off by saying Steve Jordan hates being referred to as “the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion.” It is apt though because he has done the same for the accordion as Jimi Hendrix did for rock guitar;  take it places it never imagined. A reference he likes a lot better though is “World’s Best Accordionist.”

Steve Jordan was a child musical prodigy, has played every instrument there is and has made a living playing music since age 7. He has electrified the accordion and even uses effects pedals. He has even done the traditional rock and roll thing with drugs and alcohol but his career is in a new phase; attempting to make money on his talent.

Seems another rock and roll thing Steve Jordan has done is getting cheated out of his royalties. He is fixing that by distributing 9 albums worth of unreleased material through his own label at estebanjordan.com later this summer.

This is some amazing music and worth checking out. Not every day you can hear the World’s Best Accordionist.