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'Tis the Season to "Play Out"!

Now that we are into summertime here in North America, it’s a wonderful time for you (and I) to get out and do as much live gigging as possible. It just seems like there are many more opportunities for players this time of year, and of course, many more crowds of folks to come see and hear you play!

There are a lot of outdoor gigs to play, and I have already started doing them, but they certainly do come with their problems. I can remember when I was just starting college in the summer of ’69, I went into a restaurant late at night, to see none other than Rick Danko and Garth Hudson of The Band, just hanging out and having a late night snack after a concert in Philly. We started to talk, and I couldn’t get Rick to stop! I told them that I had just been to the Woodstock concerts, and that I lived yup there in White Lake, NY. He then proceeded to tell me a tremendous amount of stuff about why they “don’t like outdoor concerts!” This seemed funny back then, and even funnier now, as after all, we were talking about the most famous outdoor concert of all time! I appreciated his professionalism though, and the sense that it didn’t really matter to them about the historic proportions and all of the show, simply it was his “categorizing” it as just another “outdoor concert!”

In retrospect, it was very admirable of him to talk about, and to share that info with me, and yes, over the years I have found outdoor gigs to have far too many variables for them ever to be at least a semi-controlled environment in which to play. I did a nice one the other day, but it was also nice because all the conditions were perfect. Maybe a bit too much heat, but at least we got to be under a shady tree. The wind can be an awful problem, and the potential of rain is always there, too. I can recall being “rained out” of the INDOOR Astrodome with Simon and Garfunkel, because it was going to be a hurricane, and they expected flooding indoors, but the next day, we had to play OUTDOORS at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in torrential downpours that simply never stopped! We’d play, get wet, turn around, get wiped down, and then keep on playing! I thought I was going to get electrocuted!

In any event, these of course are the exception to the rule, and are rather “extreme” circumstances, for sure. But all in all, if you can control as many of the “variables as possible, you’ll find that the “outdoor” gigging season that is now upon us, should be an extremely fruitful one for you, with many wonderful opportunities to be heard! Enjoy!

Posted: 11/06/2012 15:26:58 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Teaching and Learning Many Styles

The age-old question with learning the guitar has always been “where do I start?”, and then, “where do I go from here?” Either way, we’re talking about many styles that can be learnt and many avenues the learner can decide to take.

I have always seen that beginners always start with a very specific kind of guitar playing they want to concentrate on, but it never fails that they eventually will want to branch out into the various styles and techniques that are available to the guitarist there days. I can recall years ago when I was selling a hugely diverse catalog of videos at a guitar show booth, and a potential customer came up to me and looked at the wall of videos and said “now let’s see what I don’t have!” Well, in one quick line that person let me know just how diverse a guitarist’s tastes can be, and it was clear to me that a heavy metal player may want a country tape, a blues player may want a classical tape, and on and on. The cross-pollination of a guitarist throughout his or her playing experience can be so diverse as to be limitless, and this is really what makes for a player with real depth.

I have always enjoyed teaching the many styles I have learned, and I have also always found that each player and student has their own distinctive “fingerprint” to their sound that makes their own style into even what we could identify as their own sub-category of sound and stylistic approach.

After all, I started with my love of the blues and of country guitar, yet I still ended up being considered a kind of “pioneer” in certain playing styles within these well-established musical genres. It just shows how we all lend our own take on things in the end, and that with each ensuing note, we are always changing how music is both played and how it’s learned.

Relatively, the guitar is a rather “young” instrument compared to most others, and therefore the teaching techniques that are used for it are very individual and are constantly being re-defined. This was so evident during the years of me creating all those Hot Licks video and audio lessons with so many unique artists. Since we were self-taught artists helping you to teach yourselves as well, we were literally re-defining how the guitar was being taught on the spot. If you decide to take up an older, more classically established instrument such as the violin or the piano, you’ll see that the instruction is far more rigid, and the rules are quite a bit more “etched in stone” than the freer ways in which we are used to learning the guitar.

So, in the end, the fact is that I really love the guitar and also love teaching it. The many styles I can cover and the ways in which I can adjust to a student’s specific needs also spices things up, and remember to always try to broaden your musical horizons, all of us guitarists deserve it! Enjoy!

Posted: 30/05/2012 15:57:04 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Onstage Etiquette

The true act of professionalism onstage is basically never to make anyone look bad! I have been the brunt of this many times when I was younger, and happened to be working with folks who were less than professional in their own right, and who loved to “blame the kid” all the time, when it was really their lack of class and ability that created the problem in the first place! A lot of these folks just love to push the blame on someone else, especially when they know they’re less than good at what they do!

I would say that the number one “bad manners” onstage is sharply turning your head and staring at someone when they make a mistake. This is not only demoralizing to that person, but it reflects really badly on the one who is doing the glaring and the finger pointing! It takes time to learn all this onstage “etiquette” but it’s truly worth it if you want to project the right image to the audience. After all, as they always say, most of the time, you’re the only one who really knows anything went wrong, and that most of the audience will have absolutely no idea that something went awry, especially if you don’t bring attention to it!

Even though I was the brunt of many of these errant criticisms when I was younger, I thankfully have not passed this onto my relationships with my musicians. It’s so important to build up those player’s confidences, not to mention to build up their trust in you! After all, a good and happy band will always be a band that trusts in one another’s approach to these situations, and to the way the music should be handled and presented.

Another important part of the onstage approach is how you deal with the audience…hostile or not. This is key, and really only comes with experience, or you may be lucky enough to actually already have the correct “people skills” to be able to handle these situations correctly. Either way, I had started out with the “aloof” attitude towards the crowds, with “letting the music speak for itself” as a key approach. Trouble was, that never seemed to go over that well, and once my true personality came forth in my life, I was able to make that happen onstage, and I was able to relate to the audience, be funny and therefore relax the entire situation!

So, more on this in future installments but suffice to say, “onstage etiquette” and persona is one very important thing for the development of you career and image!! Have fun!

Posted: 23/05/2012 16:10:19 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

When Other Players are Intimidated by You, and Vice Versa!

There are many reasons certain situations seem to exclude you, and when people seemingly ignore you by not inviting you to play at certain occasions, but the most prevailing one seems to simply be that they are intimidated by you! Jealousy is a very primeval and deeply-rooted emotion, and it can really run people’s lives when it comes to dealing with others in their same profession.

I know I’ve come across this countless times during my life and career, and since I never feel this way about others and am so trusting, it never really occurs to me until it’s too late. But nevertheless it is true that many people will have an underlying jealousy and intimidation factor towards you, and this can often translate into less work and less exposure, which is just what they want to happen to you!

On a really large scale this happened to me in the making of the film “Crossroads”, where my credits were taken away and someone else took the credit for everything I played and everything I wrote, as if I wasn’t even there! They tried to erase my 7 months of work on that project as if it never happened, and of course, not only took credit for MY work, but also were quite effective in making sure I didn’t get any more movie work like this. Why? Because they were simply intimidated by my abilities, and were trying to protect their own movie soundtrack career!

By the same token, you have to be careful not to have this feeling towards others also, as it can be a very hurtful thing to do to anyone else, and can create a lot of problems personally, between you and other musicians. These kinds of things can come back to hurt you later on, and in a world where “what goes around, comes around” we certainly don’t need any more pain than we already must bear. It’s so much better and healthier to be accepting of others, and to learn from what they do rather than to be intimidated by them. After all, you must always accept that no matter what, there’ll always be someone better than you, as everyone is totally different. It’s so much better to try to learn from those who we feel rather intimidated by, and in this way, you’ll be playing on a par with those folks before you even know it!

That’s how I did it, and I also equate it to sports, as in the way I always tried to play tennis against better rivals that me…it always kept me improving and forced me to step up my game. Always set higher and higher goals for yourself, and let that “intimidation” factor always play to your advantage and to your benefit! You will amaze yourself with the results, and how good you’ll feel!

Posted: 22/05/2012 10:08:24 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Young, Up-and-Coming Players!

I have been truly amazed at the incredible amount of hot young players there are in the world of guitar these days, and there never seems to be a gig or clinic I do where I end up meeting some Mom or Dad with their “child prodigy!” There’s no doubt there are lots of them out there, and the sad thing is that if they really don’t make it and make a “splash” at this young age, very soon they will end up being just another young player who is very good, and who is looking to make a real career out of this.

I suppose that even though there are many great young players, and being so young makes them seem so brilliant, it becomes important to differentiate even within this category so you can really see who are the true greats! I believe if you possess actual genius this will display itself at a very young age as well, and this is something that not only must be cultivated, it basically cannot be stopped! I personally have seen many young, great players who seemed to have an “overload” of accolades and success when they were too young, and then sure enough, they either lost interest soon after, could no longer “cut it”, or just basically “peaked” early, never to achieve that continued development and success that seemed so promising in the beginning.

Another problem, and it’s a big one, is the fact that the parents of my generation are often too infatuated with making their kids into “rock stars” even if the kid themselves is not that into it. There’s just something about this “rock star” generation that puts a lot of false hopes and too much pressure on the kids, and yes, even though it’s cool to be a guitar player, most of these parents are trying to live out their own Rock ‘n Roll fantasies through their children. In actuality, these parents mostly have no idea what it’s really like to be involved in the music scene, and what could be in store for their children in later years. It’s all a very big sacrifice, and in some cases, they are asking their kids to sacrifice their very youth, making a very big trade-off for their “career”!

I believe one has to be very careful how you handle these kids, and you must be sure to let them have a childhood first, and a career a distant second. In the end it will be their life “balance” that will be channeled through their guitar playing, and as always, it’s much better to make the guitar an extension of your life, as opposed to it being something so all-consuming that is literally runs your life!

But make no mistake about it; a young, up and comer must not be ignored, and must be encouraged in every way possible. The worst thing is to take a brilliant musician, and make them just “a tree falling in the woods” with no one to even hear the sound!

Posted: 17/05/2012 9:40:29 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Doing TV Interviews

Lately, due to my new album coming out soon, and the need for publicity, etc., I’ve been doing a fair amount of radio as well as TV interviews. Yesterday I did a very local, but still very professionally produced interview for a local TV station, and it was a lot of fun for sure!  The interviewer was a real pleasure to deal with, and she kept me nice and relaxed. And this is very important, because even those of us who are very seasoned pros at things like this still get a fair share of jitters once that tape starts rolling, and it’s our time to talk! The main thing for me was to stay focused, and to concentrate on what I really wanted to say, as opposed to going off on too many tangents. Tangents are okay, but these pieces often get edited down anyway to the bare bones of what they want from you, so I was much better off keeping it straightforward.

TV can be a tricky and high-pressured medium to work in and I remember when I was doing shows like Saturday Night Live, The Dick Cavett Show and more, it was always extremely pressure-packed. When I did The Conan O’Brien show back in ’94 with Danny Gatton,  I do certainly remember being a bit nervous, but I recall the overall vibe on the “set” as far more relaxed that I had experienced before. Some of the people in that industry can have a real “attitude” when it comes to how they treat you, and you always have to be on guard for them to immediately turn off the “charm” once the tape is no longer rolling. I’ve gotten that vibe even from relative novices who suddenly act like they’re everything, and who totally ignore me, and then I realize that I have most likely been in show business about 30 years longer than them!!!

That’s why it’s refreshing to meet a true group of professionals like I did the other day, and ones who seemed genuinely interested in my music and what I had to say. I don’t care how many times you’ve been around the block, real sincerity cannot be topped, and always helps the situation. In this case, it made all the difference when it came to the 20 minutes I was supposed to “shine” in!

So if you ever get the opportunity to do some TV work for promoting your music or whatever, make sure to stay cool, focused, and most of all, keep it real. This will help you rise above any of the negativity anyone else on the project may be putting “out there” and will keep you doing what you need to do!

Posted: 07/05/2012 15:46:04 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Getting the Word Out about Your Band

Spreading the word about your band, or your solo act for that matter, can be so escalated in these times of fast “one click” communication compared to the old days. It almost makes us forget how “word of mouth” is still the most important way to get the word out. After all, in the end it will still depend on how people talk about you, and the effect you may have on them and their reactions from a live encounter or performance.

Still, once you’ve gotten some good publicity, especially in the form of something on the Internet, you can the spread the word with lightning speed to many of you fans, and also to prospective fans. Someone just contacted me about doing an interview to promote and upcoming gig of mine, and within just a few minutes I was able to send him about 20 different links to articles, YouTube clips, photos, performances and more and more. In fact, the more I searched on the internet, the more I was able to find! You will find this too, as the more exposure you get professionally, the more you will find on the web about yourselves, both good and bad!

If you go to many performances by musicians these days, you’ll see that they often have a “sign up” page to be on their mailing list for emails about upcoming events, etc., and that’s just one of the great ways you can develop an e-mailing list to use. The obvious stuff these days are the “social media” approaches, such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter etc., which are fantastic for getting out the word about your music for sure. They’ve been a huge help for me and also my daughter Lexie, who is releasing a new album now, and who, as many in her generation are, is a master at using the computer and all of its applications! Another great fact is that everyone has a website now, so the things that are printed or filmed or recorded about you can always be located easily enough thanks to folks “searching” for you. Usually when I do an interview on radio or wherever it may be, it’s pretty certain that they’ve already looked up a lot of stuff about me, or if they’re in a real hurry, they’ll be looking at it literally as we’re on the air! Such a thing happened when I was on the Boomer and Carton show on sports radio in New York City, and that made for some funny stuff, because they were asking literally whatever came up on the internet…some of it only marginally related to what we were talking about!

But regardless of how you do with all this, I’m sure you’re already using it, and making sure that all the best word is gotten out on the internet and otherwise about you and your musical journey!

Posted: 02/05/2012 14:55:46 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

A Word about Composing Tunes

Writing songs is such a personal process it’s almost impossible to identify actual ways in which songs are written, and it’s certainly as individual as each composer themselves! The usual question all traditional song writers get asked is “do you write the music or the lyrics first?” Well, that’s certainly a pragmatic enough query, but it makes very little sense in terms of how the real process should work. I find that the yes, even though I can force myself to sit down and write lyrics and / or music, the far more “organic” approach works for me. By this I mean that number one, the spark for the song must first “come” from somewhere. Then, once something of a foundational start is established the song can take shape.

I am very much known for my instrumental songs, either original or interpretations of other’s tunes, but when I write literally any song, it always seems to happily live as an instrumental for me for a long time before it even becomes a song with lyrics. Many times it ends up just staying that way, or as I did in the case of a song on my upcoming album, I tried in vain for so long to write lyrics that I still ended up treating it as an “instrumental” version of a song that never actually had lyrics at all! (Or at least it had a few lyric ideas, which I was able to use as a basis for at least a kind of “concept” of what the song was to be about!) So as you can see, in this case I used even the “hint” of a lyrical idea to help spring forth an instrumental “version” of a song that never really had lyrics to begin with! The real idea behind this to me is the fact that notes can say far more than a word can in a song. If you sing a word, well, that’s pretty much it…..what you hear is what you get…but when you play a note, it is speaking purely from the heart, and is saying something that literally cannot be expressed as a word or lyric.

Still, the process is very much “up for grabs”, and you should always be on the lookout for any inspiration that hits you….it may start as an instrumental idea, or lyrics. The best for songs that have lyrics for me is when the music and words seem to fall together right about the same time. This means that as the tune progresses, the music and lyrics seem to “feed each other.” One sort of helps push the other along, and before you know it, you have a really nice blend of sounds and ideas that you know really “gelled” together nicely, and that represent a “time and space” in which you were working, and in which you were feeling the inspiration!

So however the muse may ever hit you, remember to stay tuned to it, and listen to your heart and what it is trying to say through a song. And remember, like I said earlier, often, a note can say even more than a lyric ever could!

Posted: 30/04/2012 15:21:31 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Concentrate on your Rhythm!

There’s no doubt that as many people have always said, “rhythm guitar is a lost art.” The reason for this is all around us if you listen to what has been happening to guitar over the last 25 years or so. The accentuation on lead has been so extreme, there are players who can play literally thousands of notes at full throttle, yet who have never had to play rhythm guitar with anyone! Instead, you can always tell these players by watching how rather than playing rhythm, they simply “lay out” and wait for their next chance to solo!

Well, this certainly is not an acceptable way to approach the instrument, nor a way to become a “well-rounded” player, which is what we all really should aspire to. All parts that we play as guitar players should not only be taken seriously, but they should truly be embraced as something beautiful and viable as an important part of guitar music. Making music is a full-fledged commitment, and this can only happen if you truly have that dedication to, and belief in the parts you play! I certainly recommend that you hone these rhythm skills by playing with others a lot, but also when you play by yourself, concentrating on alternating your leads and rhythm playing. Play a little lead, then comp awhile, use the leads as interjected “fills”, and try to keep the sense of the forward movement of the song in your head. And always remember, when you use some of the time of the song as a fill, you must be able to come back to the correct spot in the tune that lands you properly. I’ve seen many students who lack this ability, and to properly make it happen, you really need to keep hearing the forward motion of the music, even as you play fills. I call this “hearing the band in your head”, and it’s the way I always did some of my best learning and practicing in my early days. It’s a joy to experiment with!

So, I hope you can become one of the “purists” who can start to bring back the fine art of rhythm playing. It’s all really part of the same picture you want to create as a player, and it will always help you in the future as you do more and more professional gigs, especially the ones where you are required to play several parts. Keep in mind you are a guitar player, not a rhythm or lead player!!! Keep up the good work, and always make your musical parts count!

Posted: 18/04/2012 14:54:42 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Minor and Major Scales Versus "Shapes"

The whole idea of scales verses “shapes” has always been a real important subject to me, and I find students needing to deal with this all the time. The problem comes from this “scale mentality”, which unfortunately makes far too many of us think in terms  of just groups and lines of notes, as opposed to the real more musical approach of thinking in terms of shapes and chord changes.

The other day, I had to do some explaining to a student about this dilemma, and it was all I could do to make him “see the light” and to get him out of that whole “scale and mode” way of approaching the fret board. I quite frankly, learned on my feet, shooting “from the hip” and in front of audiences and peers. Yes, it at times can be intimidating, but in the end, the very act of learning in this manner, and always “playing for the song” will make you a far better player, with more naturally honed instincts. It will develop your ear much more, and interval and chord change “recognition” will become second nature o you far more quickly than if you try to do it in a studious, “by the book” way!

When we were working with the minor and major scales, and their interweaving, it just became more and more apparent how sometimes “minor can work over major”, but how “major cannot work over minor.” Of course, there are some key exceptions to this rule, especially when it comes to being a bit “jazzier” with your note choices, but there are certain “taboos” we always must avoid for sure.

This is another reason that I encourage the “shape” approach for players, because “scales” after all always contain the very notes of the chord you are playing for. The importance of relating the major chord and scale to its relative minor is always a big awareness to have, and it right away teaches you about the difference of harmonic “centers” when it comes to understanding how to phrase and how to choose your notes wisely. If a player starts to get to “scale-oriented” and is no longer playing for the song, I can spot it a mile away. This is when an audience starts to fade away too, and when their attention span goes out the window as well. After all, when you are listening to a player play, you are also tuning into their thought process and if you sense a “break” in that process, it’s like losing them in the middle of a sentence, or a conversation.

So attention to the notes and what they harmonically and emotionally mean over a given chord change is critical, and I strongly recommend that in your playing from here on out, you pay much closer attention to what your notes are doing over the given chord “shapes” and changes. Hey, worse comes to worse, you make a few mistakes that you’ll never make again….just remember to fix them, and to understand why they were wrong in the first place! More on this important subject in the future!

Posted: 12/04/2012 8:12:21 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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