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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Southern Guitar Charm

Southern Guitar Charm
Inspired to Study Improvisation Again
A New Birth 

What is Southern Guitar charm?  It’s a phrase representative of my newfound adventure into finally learning how to improvise in a meaningful and fulfilling way. I’m finally learning how to express myself in a way that I’ve always wanted to, and in a way that I’ve always dreamed of.  It hasn’t been easy and the journey certainly continues. After all, one can improvise from the very first day that they pick up their guitar, but that’s only the beginning. It’s a long road between jamming on the first pentatonic scales to full blown control over the guitar neck and musical sensibilities. The exploration of music improvisation is a lifetime endeavor – it never ends. 
I love to teach. I’m constantly thinking of new approaches to age-old questions like what comes first, the chicken or the egg? How about the cart, or the horse? How do these questions apply to music improvisation?  Do you learn the scales and theory first? Or, do you step back looking for a specific goal for your soloing and use that as the prize that will entice you to practice relentlessly? I think it’s a combination of the two. Your study of scales and theory coupled with playing music in a band, or in your home studio will lend improvement in both areas proving that they are both necessary. But, It’s important to have something to work towards whether it’s a specific style, genre, or artist. I always thought that my soloing would develop through studying be bop jazz and fusion but it never seemed to click for me. Why?
 I’ve listened to gazillions of guitarists and have attempted to learn something about all of their styles of playing. Only one problem, I’m not them, and they’re not me. Taking a guitar riff, or a lick, and trying to incorporate it into my own style of playing didn’t really work, at least in the earliest stages. Playing real book tunes never seemed to draw me in for one reason or another. I’ve always had a feeling that something deeper and more meaningful was missing from my somewhat academic approach to soloing. It wasn’t the music that was the problem; it was me being able to relate to the music – that was the problem. I needed to find a style of music that would draw me in and create a need and a desire in me to practice relentlessly with joy and purpose.
There were two huge factors in my finally being able to have a firm grasp on soloing. One was the fact that I’ve spent a couple of years teaching employees at Line 6. I teach and work with adults who are already really good guitarists. They’ve been interested in learning a few solo guitar songs, which wasn’t a problem for me. I had done a lot of that in the past. But, they also wanted to learn how to get better at improvising – uh oh – that’s something that I was also struggling with. I wanted to come up with something that we could work on that would stretch us all, make us all better players, and teach us all something that we didn’t already know.
The perfect idea came to me. I spent quite a few years living on the east coast. I was a huge fan of southern rock as well as the guitar wizardry of guys like Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. I’m a huge fan of Brent Mason, Greg Koch and JD Simo. They all employ a technique known as “hybrid picking.” I didn’t know much about it. . I had always played the guitar, one of two ways; either with a flat-pick using no additional fingers on the right hand, or with fingers only and no pick, as in the traditional style of classical guitarists. It was either the pick, or finger style for me as opposed to a playing with a combination of the two. I had spent many years studying and teaching primarily in the classical guitar discipline. This was my chance to step out of my comfort zone and get my improvisation skills up to snuff once and for all! 
It was time to combine my thirst for putting together killer solos with working on a brand new style of playing. I finally found something that inspired me to the point that I couldn’t stop picking up the guitar at every spare moment. I was about to enter a new exciting world of music that would allow me to combine much of what I had already learned in jazz and classical music. I was once again excited about studying and practicing improvisation and technique.
I took this challenge to my students. We set off on a journey to work with hybrid picking and learning the paramount principles of what goes into a great guitar solo. I challenged myself to come up with a succinct, concise way to explain soloing and to make it easy for students to process and access. I have lots of method books on soloing. Many of them are so complicated and over stated that you can’t make heads or tails out of the material unless you’re already an advanced improviser.  It took me a couple of years but I’ve done it - thanks to working with the Line 6 gang, and also thanks to my most recent studying of the Nashville guitar style. I finally have a method of teaching and understanding for improvisation that’s easy to comprehend and fun to learn. I finally found an improvisational style that makes my heart sing!! I had incorporated a new rack of spices into my playing, a newfound Southern Charm.

I’m employing the thumb pick technique that Brent Mason uses. Get an up close look at Brent’s technique on this teaching video – it’s killer!

                Until next time – surf it mellow my brothers and sisters – the MD