"Black Market Hearts" and "Expanded Blues Guitar" together again for the first time.

My first month as an “Independent Artist”.

It’s been an interesting ride, for sure. The official release date for my album was January 14th, but it wasn’t available for people online until that Friday, January 17th.  I would not get physical CDs until Wednesday the 22nd, but folks we’re already buying the album online as it came available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Amazon and wherever.  At the same time I was waiting for the accompanying guitar method book to arrive, which was also supposed to arrive around the 22nd.  My big concern was that they be here for the annual Winter NAMM convention, which I have the good fortune of being local to (it’s held 4 miles down the road from my studio) and it is the one time a year where I see lots of my online friends and acquaintances in person.  I also host clinics and jams and whatnot in my teaching studio Premier Music.  It was the perfect time to have new music to share (or to launch a book).

 

Over the weekend of the 17th I started getting some interesting emails as people got to hear some of the music online and I was pretty excited with the response.  On Tuesday the 21st I received an email from a DJ in Buenos Aires asking for a copy of the CD to play on the air.  I was ecstatic to get some unsolicited attention and immediately put the package together for him.  Later in the day I did my now daily Googling of myself and the album title and discovered that even before I had physical CD’s in my possession the album in all of the high quality files with the artwork and other information was now being posted for free on dozens of torrent sites in countries all over the world.  Stolen before I even had gotten a copy for myself or had made a dollar from a sale.  I was angry to say the least.

 

Opening the box of CDs for the first time.  Happy and exhausted at the same time.

Opening the box of CDs for the first time. Happy and exhausted at the same time.

The reality is that no one was waiting to steal my music as if it were the new U2 album.  This is an automated theft of intellectual property that is a consequence of our relationships with technology and the internet.  Everything new that gets released apparently gets automatically scraped or leaked and posted somewhere regardless of who the artist is or how big they are.  It took me most of the day to get over that fact and realize that once I got Google to translate some of the pages the comments were very positive about the music and folks were even taking the time to rate the album on their sites (7.5 out of 10 stars in Russia thank you very much). There is no getting past the fact that the music was stolen but I decided to look at it like free marketing.  For the next couple of weeks I started getting requests from DJs around Europe asking for actual copies of the album to play on the air (they must have rules about broadcasting from a physical copy or something like that).  Traffic on my various websites and YouTube channel started increasing and I actually WAS selling CDs and digital copies of the album without any real marketing other than what I was able to do via social media.  A week or so after the show I played a gig with my cover band and the guys surprised me by learning their favorite song from the album (Roar) and making me play it with them that night.  I hadn’t actually worked it up to play live yet with my own band (we didn’t play it for the NAMM show) but luckily I remembered it enough to play it :)

 

All Star Trio after surprising me by learning "Roar" and playing it on a cover gig in Dana Point.

All Star Trio after surprising me by learning “Roar” and playing it on a cover gig in Dana Point.

Most of the last 4-6 weeks has been spent working on getting the book out there for distribution online mailing out packages of books and CDs and finishing up the online portion of my book, which entailed another recording session where 11 backing tracks were recorded for folks to play with while learning from the book.  There are also “Music Minus Mark” versions of all of the songs as well as instrumental versions of the whole album as well.  In the next couple of weeks I should have the backing track stuff finished to the point where I can sell it online as a separate package if folks don’t want or need the other part of my book.  What started as just a demo CD to get out playing something other that cover gigs has turned into a great album of music that I love, and instructional book and possibly a blues styles lesson package.

Back in the studio to record the backing tracks for "Expanded Blues Guitar".

Back in the studio to record the backing tracks for “Expanded Blues Guitar”.

The next step is to get the music out for review and airplay.  Since I am one person and have no record label, management or publicist it is a matter of daily research online and trips to the post office.  I did get my first review online from my good friend Jeff Garvin on his blog RockPaperLife.com.  He might have spoiled me for future reviews… Another upcoming part of the program is getting out and playing live.  We already have a couple of gigs lined up but I have to figure out a way of playing regularly and still bringing out a crowd of people when we are all middle aged.  This was much easier in my 20s…. If you want to hear the album streaming or would like information on where to buy it or “Expanded Blues Guitar” please check it out on my website!

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I started recording an album and before I was done I also had a book.

frontcover Layout 2

The bulk of this blog entry is from the Authors Notes from my new book “Expanded Blues Guitar”. The process of writing and recording a blues album also spawned a book that is part transcription book, part theory and part blues guitar method book.  And by the end of it all I also had a blues album that really doesn’t sound like a very traditional blues record.  My next few blogs (now that I’m back to writing them) will be about the process of producing both projects and life after they are done (which has quickly gotten interesting, at least for me),  This blog is the story of how I ended up writing a book this year.

Every album I’ve recorded I have made a 3 ring binder where I keep music, lyrics, schedules, notes or whatever. This time around it was going to be a practice diary where I just logged what I worked on so that I could sharpen my chops before recording time. After a few rehearsals were recorded I found a few solos I liked that I transcribed so that I would remember the good bits. Then I charted a few tunes to make rehearsals more efficient.  Before long there was a ton of stuff in the book and it was nice to go through it every once in a while and review ideas or get back on track with my practicing.

Right before we started actually recording I decided that I would try a crowd-funding website
called Kickstarter. Essentially you post a campaign for a project and try to get people to pledge
money to help you get the project funded. If you get enough pledges (you set an amount for the
campaign) then you get funded. You offer enticements for people to contribute like free CD’s, t-shirts or other swag or even live performances. One of the prizes I offered was the practice diary for $100.  I figured someone might be interested in a book full of guitar licks.

It turned out that six people ended up ponying up $100 a piece for the book.

I worked it out where the first person who pledged gets the physical book but everyone else
gets a much nicer version of it that has been done in notation software (so its legible) and I threw out the idea that I’ll transcribe the whole album for it as well. Maybe I could turn some of the tunes into lessons for video later but there were no plans to actually write a real book until I realized that I was going to essentially write an entire book anyway.

For various reasons the recording process went from an estimated 4 months to over a year so
I decided to put up a private forum for the folks who contributed and I just started posting PDF’s and mp3s of the music as I got it since I was feeling bad about taking money and not giving anything in a reasonable amount of time. It was also a nice place to get feedback on what I was doing and one of  the questions was about the book itself…

 “As I’ve worked on this I’ve kinda started thinking that instead of just a book of transcriptions maybe I could do a book that has all of the songs in it but then have a section of basic blues theory and stylistic information and then some bits about how I’ve mangled that stuff in my own music. Rhythm and lead guitar lessons. Or maybe just a transcription book and a separate lesson book with only a few of the songs for examples in it.

What do you guys think?”

     The answer from pretty much everyone was that they thought the lesson book was the best idea and I realized that I could have a text to teach from for my students who wanted to play blues
and possibly even cross-promote the album. Win-win!!!

 

Next time, It’s all about getting both projects ready in time for the Winter NAMM convention and finding myself on a zillion pirate music sites before I even have physical copies of the album.

“Expanded Blues Guitar” is now available through Lulu.com!

You can also find “Black Market Hearts” in the following places:

iTunes
Amazon.com
Google Play
last.fm
Rhapsody!

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Turnarounds, with the help of Little Walter and Kid Ramos.

They are everywhere.  Sometimes in a song, sometimes in life.

I get bogged down sometimes in the details, take on too much at one time…stretched so thin that I’m afraid I’ll evaporate like a cup of water spilled in the sun.  Projects like this blog get going and then I run out of steam or run out of time to keep it going.  Every once in a while I need to go back to the top and start over again.  This is “turnaround week” for me…all sorts of things to get back on track but most importantly a back injury I suffered over Labor Day weekend is pretty much healed up so I was able to get back to the gym today, I’ve gotten the ball rolling to finish up my solo album and I’m back here at my blog writing about it all. :)

You folks didn’t click on the link to hear me complain so I’ll keep with the theme of turning around the blues with a couple of turnarounds that I’ve stolen from a Little Walter recording and a Kid Ramos jam….enjoy!

Blues turnarounds for guitar

Turnarounds

The Little Walter turnaround (played on guitar by either Luther Tucker or Robert Lockwood Jr) is all over this recording in various ways:

 

The Kid Ramos turnaround can be heard at about 1:40 in this video:

 

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As soon as I got in the door I got to jam a bit on Kerouacs new McFeely Telemaster...

Things I learned at Pragestock 2013

This past weekend I finally was able to attend the annual (5th annual to be exact) meeting of members from my forum at http://markweinguitarlessons.com/forums/.  Forum members (and husband and wife)  Prages and Mrs P have been opening their home in West Virginia to an international cast of crazies every summer for a long weekend of music, food, beer and general craziness and every year the stories (and the attendance list) more and more epic.  I haven’t been to one yet because the summer is hard for me to leave the studio but this year I decided that I HAD to be at the 5th annual incarnation.  Some observations and high points from my weekend:

The cast of Pragestock 5 - forum members and local friends.The cast of Pragestock 5 – forum members and local friends.

1.  I am lucky to own a forum with the best members in the world.  Even with the large amounts of beer (and bourbon) imbibed and the long hours the atmosphere was always fun and one thing that was said to me at different times during the weekend by different people was that it was amazing that after 5 years of these gatherings and the fact that most of the folks had known each other previously only as a screen name on a forum there has never been an uncomfortable moment.  Lots of ‘real life” friendships have sprung up and folks have smaller meetups or even just catch a meal or a beer together when someones passing through their hometown.  The weekend was filled with folks being funny and generous and with a complete lack of ego or weirdness.

The card the guys gave me when I showed up.  It played

The card the guys gave me when I showed up. It played “We WIll Rock You” when opened :)

2.  There is so much guitar equipment under the sun that you never REALLY know what is out there.  I played guitars this weekend from Music Man, Fender, Reverend, Ibanez, McFeely, Emerald, Jay Buckley, Sigma, Warmoth, Steiberger, Carvin and I’m sure others that I can’t remember. I cranked amps from Holland, Peavy, Allen, VHT, Fender, Orange and EVH.  I can’t even remember all of the pedal manufacturers that had products represented in the room.  I discovered that Telecaster911 has a 1998 Fender Stratocaster that is absolutely AWESOME.  And that is an era I am very well acquainted with and absolutely despise.  I now have incredible amp GAS for a Holland Little Jimi, which is the perfect replacement for my ailing Deluxe Reverb. Jaxn Slim turned me onto the Strymon Mobius which I’m also trying to figure out how I can afford.  Another standout stomp box for me was the Fulltone Fat Boost.  I had some long standing opinions changed about a few things and other prejudices validated but it was a blast getting to try so many things I had only seen online.

3. Playing music with your friends is good for the soul.  Some of us play all of the time but it was good to see a few folks without too much live experience get their feet wet too.  Even with the wide range of skill levels it seemed to me like the guys with lesser experience weren’t too intimidated and had a good time making some music at a loud level too.  I’m fortunate to have places to place loud but for most adults being able to wind out a big amp and play some Stone Temple Pilots or Deep Purple is a rare occurrence.  But even for those of us who gig all of the time the opportunity to play tunes that aren’t “cover band” friendly was pretty huge.

4. I still suck at remembering lyrics.

5.  As long as a guitar isn’t made by Gibson, it’ll probably survive a fall from a strap.

6.  I’m definitely not 21 anymore :o

 

For more pictures, video and play-by-play of the weekends carnage you can investigate further here: http://markweinguitarlessons.com/forums/threads/the-official-pragestock-thread.50886/

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Guitars

Gear rundown for the songs on my new demo!

Earlier today I posted a few songs online that are rough mixes from my upcoming album and I figured (after a conversation with a friend on Facebook) that it would be fun to detail the gear we used on each song.  Instead of just setting up my live rig in the studio and letting it rip we decided to match the tone to the song, which meant that I’ve been able to pull a bunch of older gear out of retirement and play some borrowed axes from my buddy and producer Scott.

Someone Else’s Fool

On this song I played Scott’s 1972 Telecaster through my 1964 Silvertone 1484 into an Avatar 2×12 cabinet loaded with Celestion Greenback speakers.  Fot the leads I ran through a Suhr Koko Boost and a Wampler Ego Compressor.   Tommy Harkenrider played his Dunham tele-style guitar through his ’58 Tweed Pro.  We cut the rhythm parts at the same time to get more of a “band” vibe and then I went back and did the solo afterwards.

I’m Gonna Leave

This was my Suhr Classic strat-style guitar with the Suhr Koko Boost, Suhr Badger 30 head into the Avatar cabinet for me and Tom played the rhythm guitars with his Dunham and ’58 Pro.  Seeing a pattern here?
Life is Good

I’m playing my Suhr tele into the SIlvertone/Avatar setup.  I think I’m using the compressor and Koko Boost combination too although thats hard to distinguish because I have the amp tremolo running the whole time too.  No Tom on this one or on Pop!

Pop!

This song is my 1979 Gibson The Paul with BG Pure 90 pickups through the Silvertone 1484 although I’m using my 1×12 cab with a Celestion Classic 80 speaker.  For the solo I just added the Suhr Koko Boost to make it a small amount bigger sounding.

440feb

The Suhr Badger 30 and the 1×12 cab with a Celestion Classic 80 speaker.

 

58pro

Tom’s ’58 Fender Pro is on the right.

amps

Amps lined up and ready to go. Could have left half of them in the store room.

My pedalboard during recording (it's changed a bit since then)

My pedalboard during recording (it’s changed a bit since then)

1964 Silvertone 1484 and 2x12 Avatar cabinet

1964 Silvertone 1484 and 2×12 Avatar cabinet

1972 Tele
Playing Scotts 1972 Telecaster on “Someone Else’s Fool”

 

1979 Gibson The Paul with BG Pure 90 pickups

1979 Gibson The Paul with BG Pure 90 pickups

Tommy Harkenrider with his Dunham guitar.

Tommy Harkenrider with his Dunham guitar.

 

 

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Some days....

Some days are better than others – and I’ve got the video to prove it when they aren’t.

I play in a couple of bands these days, but there is only one (my solo project) that I actually get to be creative in. The rest are cover bands of various sorts and while I’m happy to be playing music and getting paid for it I really live for the chance to play my own music.

I’ve been working on my first album of new original music for nearly a year at this point…I started writing and rehearsing the band last June and we started recording in December although we’ve been averaging a day of recording time every 4 weeks or so because of everyones “real” work schedules as well as my bronchitis last month. Until the day that I have a batch of songs finished enough to share I don’t have a demo to shop around for gigs so we’ve only played the new music out twice, once at our Winter NAMM event last January and this past weekend at a show we put on for the students of my music school. At some point we’ll play a “real” gig where I’m not running around after students and setting up PA and whatnot. These events DO give me a chance to play my own music with my best friends though so I really look forward to the opportunity…

This weekend I decided to shoot some video of the show to see what I sounded like after months of woodshedding technique and trying to “own” my own music performance-wise. I have a hard time remembering lyrics (even my own) and I’ve been trying to keep from playing the same guitar solo in every song so while there is an element of improvisation in each solo I also keep a few “landmark” licks that I hope make the solo more a part of the song and less of a jam.

After a crazy day of teaching and recital prep and all that other stuff by the time I stepped on stage to play my own music I was both exhausted and a bit frazzled, but it was showtime so I tried to pull it together. I was incredibly unhappy with my performance for the first set (which was recorded to video) and by the second set I had settled in and played what I thought was pretty good. My biggest issue was those damn lyrics. But I wasn’t able to settle in and be comfortable for the first set mentally either. Watching the video I can tell that I’m tense with my rhythm guitar in places and my solos are incredibly notey…when I don’t know what to say I tend to say too much. I have a trio of videos from the night that I felt were the most presentable but the rest are going to stay on my hard drive at home to be studied and notated for the next opportunity to play.  Kind of like a football coach reviewing game films.  Hopefully I’ll be better prepared for the next show.  This is my first original blues project and I’m finding that its a different animal in terms of performance since my rock music had much less improvisation and much more hard and fast structure.  With the music that I’m making now I’m trying to combine the energy of the rock vibe with the more “in the moment”aesthetic that I try to play blues with.  Balancing those two ideas will be the trick.

Here are three songs that will be on the album when its finished from that show:

“Someone Else’s Fool”:

“The Last Time”:

“Can I Take You Home?”:

If you’d like to keep up with my live and recorded exploits on Facebook check me out here:www.facebook.com/markweinlive

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Would you trust this guy with YOUR Recording King?

I guess I’m better and I’m worse than I thought I was.

I’m about halfway through recording a “blues” album.  I put blues in quotes because what started as a straight ahead attempt at playing traditional blues turned into a mishmash of my favorite grooves and styles loosely arranged around blues chord progressions and song forms.

I’m actually very excited about how the album is turning out because there is a sound that has been distilled by putting the music that I write with the playing of all of my buddies, who are fantastic musicians.  And no one is very precious about how they play a style of music, either.  Everyone knows the basic vocabulary of pretty much every style after years of working as professional musicians here in town but they aren’t afraid to try something new or put their own stamp on a riff.  The producer is a long time friend that I went to high school with and have played in a ton of bands with over the years and the music is being filtered through his sensibilities as well.  And his B.S. detector.  The end result so far is an album with a “sound” of its own but lots of variety stylistically.  I’m very stoked.

Another “ingredient” in the whole stew is that I needed some challenges.  I quit working as a player for a period of close to 5 years and when I came out of my self-imposed retirement it was right back into the same band and songs.  And a half decade of playing guitar all day with just my students didn’t leave me very sharp as a player.  In some ways I had even regressed so this album was also a chance for me to climb a few musical mountains under the microscope of the recording studio.  And boy has it been an eye opener.

As a guitar player I’ve discovered that my rhythm guitar playing is much better and much more consistent.  One thing that I did spend a ton of time doing was playing through Ross Boltons’ Funk Guitar: The Essential Guide (Private Lessons) book with many, many students and always with a metronome going.

My lead playing had improved quite a bit too.  Over the last few years I’ve been very influenced by Tommy Harkenrider who teaches here at my studio (Premier Music) and plays all kinds of roots and blues music that I had never delved that deeply into over the years.  Tom has opened me up to a whole world of West Coast Blues, Western Swing, Rockabilly and Chicago blues players that were not on my radar.  My blues playing moved from a scalar approach to more emphasis on chord tones, which is how I originally learned how to play jazz.  And while I’ve always loved country guitar players like Brad Paisley, Don Rich and Brent Mason our producer has been pushing me to play more of that stuff infused into my blues lines.  We’ve even kept a handful of scratch guitar tracks with solos and rhythm parts because I didn’t think I could improve on them and keep the vibe.

A few songs ended up torturing me though.  ”Jacks Jump”, which is not going on the album is a jump blues that killed me with phrasing the lines with the proper swing.  I’ll repost the rehearsal solo that I based a lesson on a few months ago….the melody is not on the recording but you can hear the tempo.  I WILL conquer this one and the song will be finished for another project.

A song that I recorded yesterday is kind of a train feel rockabilly sort of thing.  I’m playing a total Scotty Moore rip off rhythm part and the solo has a bunch of my favorite Albert Lee and Brad Paisley inspired licks. I play some banjo rolls in the beginning of the second chorus of solo that took a lot of practice and I ended up punching that part in so many times that I have a blister on my picking hand ring finger.  I haven’t had a blister on a finger since Reagan was in the White House.

Some of the solos are longer than I’m used to recording.  There is one song in particular that has a long “ride out” solo that will end the album and trying to keep that many bars of guitar solo interesting was a challenge.  I’m pretty sure Producer Scott wanted to bash me over the head with my shiny guitar by the end of that day.

Vocals are another challenge for me as well.  I’m not a very trained singer although I need to sing on pretty much every gig I play.  And since this is my album I’m singing everything.  There is only one instrumental so I have plenty of yodeling to do.  Yesterday I sang the first song and I was really happy with my pitch and support but the dynamics and “musicality” I guess we’ll call it took some work.  The end result was worth it but it was a bit harder than I thought it would be.  I think that I have a better idea of what to work on now but it definitely wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

In any event, the writing, rehearsing and recording process for this album has been huge for me as a player.  I get to play music with my buddies that is fun and challenging and its been a great “reality check” for myself as a musician.  I hope everyone who hears it enjoys it as much as I have making the damn thing :p

If you are interested in following the progress of the album I have a diary with pictures and whatnot here on the forum: http://markweinguitarlessons.com/forums/showthread.php?39049-My-quot-making-a-record-quot-diary

 

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One of my bigger fans.

Adventures of the Occasional Lyricist.

I play guitar.

I also write music, but not as often.  The last album I wrote was “Desert Center” with my rock band Felt, which I contributed all but one of the songs lyrically and in retrospect it was a very dark and miserable album.  Between the heavy influence of my favorite songwriter Adam Duritz (who does not know the word “happy”) and my own need to vent the miserableness of my late 20′s the album was very lyrically dark.  For some reason I felt like everything I wrote needed to be something from my own experience to be believable on some level..once life didn’t suck anymore (met a great girl and got married, had kids, started a business, etc) I essentially ran out of things to bitch about.  Lyrically I dried up for years popping out the occasional song for Felt but not really finding it in myself to put words to paper in any meaningful way.

Last year I decided to do a blues album, which I thought would be something different to write and perhaps easier.  Its a style of music I’ve always listened to and played regardless of whatever else is going on for me musically.  I could write some songs that outside of the realm of rock music and perhaps do something “fun”.  And the songs came very quickly, much easier to write than rock music for me but only a couple of songs had upbeat content.  The rest of them were the stuff of the blues…and country music I guess.  Broken hearts, hard times, betrayal, old trucks, I had it all.  But suddenly  was writing songs at a quicker pace that were stories all themselves in one way or another…I didn’t have to be miserable to be creative (or interesting).

This week I put a CD together of 10 of the 14 songs we had recorded that I thought together made a good album.  I wanted to listen to the rough mixes while I was driving around and get a feel for what I had and I even gave a copy to my wife to check out for a little outside input.

Most of the time this week since its spring break I’ve been driving around with my kids in the car and they’ve gotten a kick out of listening to the music, too.  I’ve noticed my 4 year old daughter (who just started Piano lessons and loves to sing with whatever is on the radio) trying to follow and sing along with some of the songs which definitely made me smile.

This morning though, after a short ride where we heard the songs “I’m Gonna Leave” and “Someone Elses’ Fool” (you can guess what those are about) my daughter says “Dad, I just want to tell you that if you marry another girl you’re not allowed to have another family”.

WHAT?!?!?

Turns out, one of her favorite shows on Disney Channel had just introduced a story line where one of the girls had just met her new step-brother and they weren’t getting along (apparently Disney is “getting real” with their children’s programming these days).  My daughter spent two days listening to her father singing songs about “I’m gonna leave if you’re gonna stay” and “I’m going back to see my family, going back to meet somebody new” and so on and thought that I was actually going to do those things.  And she didn’t want to have to meet a stinky new step-brother or anything like that like they did on her TV show.

So I spent a few minutes explaining that I wasn’t going anywhere, Mommy and Daddy are very happy and very much in love and that sometimes when you write songs you are telling stories that aren’t from real life because you want to write something interesting for the listener.  My son at that moment piped in with “well, why can’t you write a song about a happy family and their dog?”  I replied that I couldn’t do an entire album of songs like that and while the blues has lots of happy songs I needed some sad stuff too…and Jack already has a song that we recorded :)

A snippet from a rehearsal of the instrumental “Jacks Jump” that was my sons favorite “going to school” music for a few weeks:

Anyhow, once that crisis was averted I was able to drop my now-smiling children off at their grandparents shop and go on with my day.

As far as the album goes, I’m actually very happy with the music and the performances that that band has put in and Producer/Engineer/RIngleader Scott had not only gotten some great sounds but also pulled some great performances from everyone and helped me edit my songs and guitar playing into what I think is a pretty cool sound.  I’m hoping to have a finished product to share with everyone this summer but in the mean time here is a rough mix of the instrumental “Pop!” from the album:

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Five ways to play a better Major Scale solo for Rock Guitarists

This ends up being one of those things that can really hang up a rock guitarist who is just getting started playing leads.  It is also something that can mess with many more experienced rock players that have come up through a more “classic rock” upbringing.

The reality is that most of us start with a Minor Pentatonic scale in our bedroom and we learn it as just a shape…no actual theory behind it.  Most of us learn that scale long before we ever learn a diatonic major or minor scale or the arpeggios that make up the chords that we play over.  And when we do move on to “Major” sounds it is by moving the minor pentatonic scale pattern down three frets and playing the same minor licks…hopefully it sounds good.  Usually it sounds like we are searching for the right place to end a phrase or even though we are playing the “right” notes it still sounds out of key.

The two videos below are examples of me playing solos in major keys.  The first one is a Prince song from a recent gig in the key of Bb and the second one is a Jackson 5 song from a class I was teaching last week and the key is C major.  Give them a listen while you read the rest….

Here are some things you can do to solo better in Major keys:

  1. LEARN YOUR MAJOR SCALES.  It seems silly to have to put this here but most people don’t actually learn their major scales all over the fretboard.  On my site I have a whole series of lessons starting with the CAGED system root patterns, scale fingerings, how to harmonize and analyze major key centers…the whole thing is here: Major Scales and CAGED
  2. Learn the chord tones for the I chord in your major scale. This provides a “skeleton” for you to hang your solos on.  Being aware of the chord tones for the I chord (“C major in the key of C” for example) gives you a better sense of where you can resolve your ideas and it turns the scale into the sound you are trying to play…not just a collection of notes that you spray on top of a chord progression.  Once you are comfortable with that you can start targeting other chords…this is a big part of how Country, Bluegrass and Jazz musicians improvise.  Chord tone lessons can be found here: Intervals and Chord Construction
  3. STEAL STEAL STEAL. Whenever you hear something you like in someone elses’ solo learn it and try to integrate the lick into your own vocabulary.  Eventually it just becomes part of your own unique voice.
  4. LISTEN. This should always be #1.  Many guitar players are just repeating sequences of finger movements they have learned by rote and they never actually listen to what is coming out of the speaker and how it works with the chords they are playing over.
  5. Bends should be specific. Another of those things that we don’t really spend enough time on as beginners.  A bend is simply a way to articulate the movement of one note to another.  It always needs to be in tune and in this situation it needs to be to a specific note in the scale.  Practice Half Step and Whole step bends until they are automatic and you hear in your “minds ear” what you are bending to.

The advice above seems like it should be common sense but as a “culture” Guitarists don’t learn the same as other instrumentalists.  We generally don’t start off with note reading, technical exercises that get scales and arpeggios under your fingers or a clear understanding of basic music theory.

Anyhow…enough of one of my favorite soapboxes to stand on…next week I’ll be back to complaining about drunks stagediving off my pedalboard.. . :)

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dv52

Back to the drawing board Bluegrass style.

I’m always trying to improve my playing.  Pretty much every musician I know does and the part of my playing that I feel is the weakest is my right hand picking.  I’m always looking for ways to “fix” my picking mechanics.  One common theme that I return to every few years is flatpicking…I’ve never had the opportunity to play Bluegrass music professionally so it never gets as much attention as other styles that I deal with on a more regular basis but when I can spend the time on it I always see some growth in the rest of my playing.  And while I usually start working on it for technical reasons it usually leaks into the rest of my playing in other unexpected ways.

I’m starting to feel like there are two styles that everyone should have a basic mastery of as a solid foundation for their musicianship on the guitar…the first being Funk guitar for the sixteenth note strumming and fret hand control mechanics and the second is rapidly becoming Bluegrass (supplanting Blues I think).  With Bluegrass you end up having relatively simple song forms to learn  both chords and melody.  And for improvising you tend to treat each chord like its own key center almost like a Jazz musician would look at their own improvisation.  And using the melody as the starting point for your improvisation is also a good skill.  In a lot of ways I look at it as a rhythmically and harmonically simpler version of Jazz.

Your basic understanding of music theory is challenged very quickly when putting together a simple song.  You need to know major and minor keys, how to transpose songs into a new key how to use a capo.  And most of the time there is no drummer in a bluegrass band so your rhythm guitar skills have to be incredibly solid for simple rhythms played pretty quickly.  There is really no place to hide as far as I can see it. And thats the beauty of studying the style.

For the album I’m working on right now the producer is pushing me towards something that I’ve always enjoyed doing but have usually tried to suppress as being “stylistically incorrect”, which is peppering my blues playing with country and bluegrass style licks.  If I’m playing someone else’s blues gig I usually try to play as authentically as I can.  Since this is my own album the idea now is to let me run free with the things that I like to do as long as they still sound cool.  Eric Johnson-style pentatonic licks are out (fun to play but they sound pretty out of place in the music I’ve written this time around) but this stuff is in.  For a little example check out this rough mix of the instrumental “Pop!” from the album:

At about 1:20 into the solo I play a couple of the ideas I’ve stolen from various country and bluegrass sources.  Just like I’ve incorporated ideas from the other styles of music that I’ve learned over the last 27 years of playing guitar Bluegrass ideas with the open string licks, chromatic passing tones and Country style double stops and fake pedal steel ideas have all become part of the tapestry.

I’ve always felt that a musicians “sound” comes from all of the music they’ve managed to process over the years…I’m very pleased that this stuff is actually bubbling to the surface in my own playing now.  I don’t think that every guitarist needs to master every style but if you explore your interests I feel like you’ll not only become a stronger guitarist as far as physically playing the guitar goes but you’ll get closer to finding your own unique voice on the instrument.

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