There are many brands you can start off with for electric guitars, and they are all similar in quality at the entry-level; however, three brands have stood the test of time, and you can’t really go wrong with any of these three brands: Fender, Gibson, and Ibanez. Like anything, you will have a good, better, and best option. For electrics, it comes down to where the instrument was made, hands-on craftsmanship, the quality of the wood, and pickups. There are definitely many other options, but these are the prominent features that affect the price. Here is a breakdown of which guitars I would get per level:
Entry Level ($150-400)
Mid Level ($400-800)
Pro Level ($800+)
Now, after you get your electric guitar, one of the next things you’ll be asking yourself is “what kind of amp do I need?” I can tell you, hands down, the Fender Mustang series is the PERFECT practice amp. It’s literally all you need…so much so, that it is the official practice amp of the Freeway Music locations. One of the best ways to ensure that you get all you need is to purchase a package. So, let’s get that out of the way and talk about it. Here are some packages our friends have at Sims:
The good, better, best for acoustics is generally found in how much solid vs. laminate wood is involved. Entry level guitars tend to have a laminate top and back and sides. Mid-level acoustics have solid tops. The reason they do the top is because that’s where most of your sound resonates. So, if you have a solid top, it makes a difference. Pro-level guitars are generally solid all the way around with solid tops, sides, and backs. For the most part, you’ll run into the usual suspects for guitars. Here are some recommendations for various guitars at each level:
Entry Level ($150-400)
- Fender FA-15 (3/4 size guitar great for a smaller student)
- Fender (pretty much any)
- Ibanez (pretty much any)
Normally, I’d tout Martin and Taylor pretty hard in this range…especially the Taylor GS mini as it’s literally the perfect 3/4 guitar, but they are low in stock. So, I’d check out the Ibanez Artwood Series. They are great mid-level guitars.
Ukes make for AMAZING holiday gifts because they are portable, easy to learn and play, and very affordable. Ukes tend to range between $50—$300, but float around that $50-150 mark for decent ones. Here are some brands to check out:
- Ortega *This is a newer brand that Sims recently started carrying. They look, sound, and play amazing. I just bought one for Sara Ann for Christmas. Don’t tell her ;)…She’s not reading this is she? :/
So, if you’re looking for a serious acoustic piano, check out our friends at Rice Music House. They’ve got a great selection of acoustic pianos and will be of great help to you. The acoustic pianos at Freeway Music are from Rice. You can buy or rent.
If you are in the market for a Digital Piano, I like the Casio and Yamaha brands. You can’t go wrong either way. We stock the Casios at Freeway for our voice lessons.
There are also a slew of portable keyboard options available.
Okay, I JUST started playing drums…so, give me a little grace in this department. It’s okay, I spoke with Justin at Sims, and he is an expert…so we will be alright! Here are some opinions of ours:
**Side Note: The cajon has been a popular instrument for drummers as of late for acoustic sets. Check out the LP Americana cajon… it was designed by our very own Justin Sims! 🙂
So, you wanna ease into recording. The best way to get started is by grabbing one of the Scarlet Focusrite Packages They have two different ones. Both come with a mic, mic cable, headphones, and an intro version of Protools. The only difference is one is solo and has one channel ($219), and the other is a duo with two channels ($269).
There are a ton of accessories such as capos, tuners, string winders, polish, cables, slides, pedals, shakers, tambourines, sticks, picks, and most importantly…Music Lessons! 😉
Whew…That was a lot of information. I hope this was helpful and Happy Holidays from the Freeway Family! 🙂
Alternate Guitar Tunings
After studying the guitar for many years, one of my favorite things to do is to twist the tuners into a different tuning. It forces me back to basics of just experimenting and relying on my ears. I find this is a great way to explore creativity. I’m gonna explain some common alternate guitar tunings, share some more obscure ones, and talk about how to create some of your own.
Common Alternate Guitar Tunings
Drop D: D A D G B E (all Tunings are Low E to High E left to right)
This is the most common alternate tuning. Simply lower your low E to a D. This gives you a nice lower sound and an easy way to make power chords. You’ll find this tuning from rock to finger-style.
Double Drop D: D A D G B D
This guitar tuning is similar to Drop D except that you move the high D down as well. From here you can maneuver into a few other tunings:
Dadgad: D A D G A D
This tuning is just like its name suggests.
Ex. tune: “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars
Open D: D A D F# A D
Open G: D G D G B D
This tuning is used a lot by Rolling Stones lead guitarist, Keith Richards. Although, he sometimes took off the Low D string as it “got in the way.”
All of the above tunings are very similar.
Other alternate guitar tunings include:
Open E: E B E G# B E
This is a great slide guitar tuning. Make sure you have extra strings handy, because you just might pop a string tuning to this one.
More Alternate Guitar Tunings
Shift that G# down to F# and you have Open E Sus2. This is the tuning used for “In Your Atmosphere” by John Mayer.
Another interesting tuning that John Mayer uses is Drop C in “Neon”. Simply tune the low E down to a C.
You can pretty much make any tuning you want simply by twisting the tuners to create an open chord. Here are some examples of tunings I’ve used in my own songs:
Open A: basically open G (as explained above) and capo on the 2nd
Open C: E G E G C E
In my newest song, I used an open A6/9 tuning: E A C# F# B E
This tuning is rich and was so much fun to play with.
Here is my “secret” alternate guitar tuning that I’ve been holding on to. I call it “Open Cello.” It’s called so because you tune the bottom four guitar strings to the notes of a cello and then I shift the B up to C:
C G D A C E
Open Cello is a blast to play in.
Make Your Own Alternate Guitar Tunings
So, how do you go about getting started? There are a couple approaches. One is to pick a random chord and try to spell it out with open strings.
For example, if you wanted an E Major 9, you need these notes: E, G#, B, D#, F#
So, take your existing strings to those pitches:
A-G# or B
G-F# or G#
E-D# or F# or E
The second approach is to just “ear it out.” Change the pitches until it makes an open chord that you like the sound of.
So, what are you waiting for? Twist your tuners, create a tuning, and see what creation is ahead of you. It will be like the first time you played the instrument. You’ll have that child-like wonder and rely more on your ears. You’ll have more fun than you could imagine. Best of luck!
I write this blog to help other guitarists be prepared for situations that arise at gigs, but also in part as a confession of sorts. I’ve played many gigs and have been caught without many things. So, I’ve decided to make a checklist for “you”…that includes 10 things all guitar players need in order to be prepared for a gig.
This seems like a no-brainer, but oftentimes guitar players leave picks sitting on bars, by their bedside, in a pair of jeans, etc. Then, they get to the gig and realize they don’t have one. This happened to me once at a gig at Speakeasy. I ended up having a 3 hour practice of finger-style guitar. Don’t get me wrong, it was good practice, but not necessarily fun when I had a song I could really use a pick on. So, leave some picks in your guitar case, bag, or some place where you keep up with them. Jerry Sims gave me a nifty pick pouch that has served me well. The common thread that you will see throughout this blog is to HAVE BACKUP.
I have absolutely finished a gig playing without one of my strings. Again, it tests my ability to adjust chord shapes, melodies, etc, but it is certainly limiting. I’ve learned that the best thing to do is keep a extra packs of strings in my case or bag. Another tactic is to bring a back-up guitar. Try buying strings in bulk from your local dealer. That way, you have a ton of strings on hand.
Batteries are an absolute must. Your acoustic may die, you may need one for a pedal, your 9 Volt adapter may have a short in the wire, your bass player may need one, tuners, etc. All of these examples have happened to yours truly. I carry a couple of 9-volts with me at all times, just in case I need one.
If you think your cables will never go out, you are sadly mistaken. Even nice cables can go bad. Sometimes it’s not even your fault. An audience member could spill liquid onto a cable or step on one wrong. Always have a couple of backup cables. Don’t ever have just the amount you need. As soon as one would break, you’d have to modify your whole rig or not be able to play at all.
You should have some basic tools available: screwdriver, pliers, string cutter, Allen-wrenches, etc. You could even has a basic soldering iron kit if you know how to repair your own cables. This can save you on the above item #4. Sometimes, you may have to tighten a strap button, an input jack, or change strings. The bottom line is to have some basic tools available to help you out in these situations and KEEP THEM IN YOUR BAG OR CASE. If you borrow it from your gear to fix something at home, you better return it as soon as you are done. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself stuck in a situation at a gig.
There are several tunes that I play with a capo in my group and duo. I certainly can get by without it, as I feel confident transposing; however, this sometimes requires using more bar chords which can be tough on a long acoustic gig. Also, some songs just sound better with open chords. I would definitely recommend keeping a capo in you guitar case…especially your acoustic guitar case.
Confession time…I’ve been forced to be very innovative in the past to create straps when I forgot mine. One gig I used my belt. I took it off and cut a hole on either side of it to make a strap. At another gig, I used the shoulder strap from a luggage bag. I know, this sounds ridiculous, and I agree. I was, at the very least, resourceful. Nowadays, I keep a strap in each guitar case and an extra strap in my bag.
8. Extension Cable
You never know how close to a power outlet you will be and you never know if the place will have a cable. I’ve actually had to run out to CVS and buy an extension cable. It’s always good to have one handy.
9. Power Strip
Sometimes you may need to share power with your bandmate because he/she forgot a power strip or the person who hired you for the gig may have a projector, wireless mic, or some other device that requires power. In any case, it’s always better to have more options than you need.
10. Three to Two-Prong Adapter
Believe it or not, some old buildings still have two-prong outlets. I have learned this the hard way. This situation caused me yet another trip to the hardware store. Have a three to two prong adapter available just in case.
I’m sure there are some things missing from the list, but I know these will certainly help you avoid a tricky situation. Please, email us with any other ideas for blogs, or any items you think should be included on this list: email@example.com
You go into a gig and see a person playing a guitar with a monstrous pedal board in front of him. His hands are barely moving, yet he has tons of sounds and noise coming from his rig. Sound familiar? It’s all smoke and mirrors, disguising the fact that the guitarist doesn’t really have a grasp of his instrument and hides behind sound and guitar effects.
Figure Out Your Your Flavor
I didn’t use a multitude of effects growing up simply because I could not afford them and I was forced to play with what I had. The beauty of this situation was that I discovered MY sound in MY fingers first. You can take the same guitar and hand it to different guitarists and they would each make it sound differently. Don’t bury your playing with a lot of “cake icing” from effects without discovering your own flavor first.
Bake a Solid Cake
Being More Creative With Your Icing
What I am NOT a saying is that “effects are bad.” On the contrary, I believe they are awesome and extremely useful. The great thing about being a skillful muscian is that you can still make the same effects as a lesser skilled musician, but you can do things the lesser skilled musician can’t do. It doesn’t detract from the value of effects; it adds. It’s way easier to establish your skill then add effects, than to be too effect heavy and add skill later. You won’t be hiding a “so-so” cake with icing.Sorry this blog was so heavy with metaphor, but I really wanted to drive the point home with a picture. Make sure you find your tone, hone your skill, and experiment with effects to enhance your skill. This method will help you build a solid foundation upon which to build your musicality. Best of luck with your music journey!
The It’s a word we all fumbled over as we began to read aloud as kids. Most of our words work phonetically from the alphabet that we learn. Teachers and parents patiently waited as we sounded out “r-u-n” or “j-u-m-p” in our first reading encounters. There came a time, though, when “sight-words” were introduced. Which is why, at the beginning of this paragraph, you heard the word “the” in your head as you read and not “tuh-heh”—which would be the literal sounding out of the word. At some point, we also learned how to spell the word “the,” realizing in the process that it looked nothing like what the phonetic equivalent would be.
Music is a language.
Approaching the aspect of rhythm from a linguistic point of view by expanding your vocabulary of rhythmic “sight-words” can make speaking music a much more instantaneously satisfying and simple process. Getting to the point of being able to consistently speak/tap/play a specific rhythm correctly without having to count through it (i.e. sound out the word). This process of learning “rhythm sight-words” may only involve a measure—or it may involve an entire phrase. Internalizing patterns so they can be easily “spoken” (played) allows you as a musician to read quickly, understand poly-linear rhythms (two different patterns happening at the same time), use patterns in improvisation, incorporate new rhythms into your song writing, and learn music by ear with pattern recognition.
Hooked On Rhythmics
As a pianist, I often separate rhythms and pitches for beginning students learning how to read. Sometimes when I encounter a new piece, there will be times that I simply pat out or speak rhythm patterns before attempting to play the piece. Here are some tips for growing your vocabulary when it comes to “rhythmic sight words.”
1) Isolate small sections of rhythm that you’re either drawn toward or fumble over. Start with a measure that trips you up or a section of a riff in a song that you find yourself tapping or humming.
2) If reading rhythms, count out loud and work with a metronome to ensure that you’re playing them correctly (you don’t want to be playing a rhythm incorrectly for the rest of your life…haha). If you picked a section of rhythm by ear, make sure you can play/speak/tap it accurately, and then write out the rhythm that you picked, making sure it lines up with the original recording. The first time you do either of these things, you may need to work with a teacher who can guide you through it—it’s also helpful to have someone double check accuracy. Remember that everything takes a little longer the first time and gets easier with repetition—think about the first time you read a sentence aloud.
3) Once you’ve gotten totally comfortable with the pattern, play or sing it in context. As a pianist, I often play multiple lines, so I attempt the rhythm in conjunction with the other lines that are supposed to be played simultaneously.
4) Take and find the pattern out of context. Try playing scales, arpeggios, or new ideas in that rhythm pattern—this is a great way to keep warming up from being boring! Find the pattern in other pieces of music, whether through listening or reading, and explore ways to use the patterns in other songs. Maybe use the pattern in your own songwriting.
Finally, remember that music is a language and that to be fluent in any language the skills of conversation, reading and writing, are non-negotiable. Work for fluency so that you can express yourself fully and easily in your music! You’ll be amazed at how this takes the fun of playing music to the next level.
Other blogs by Kate:
As a boy growing up in New Orleans, I remember my father, Ellis, a pianist, and his friends talking about “sheddinʼ.” When they got together, theyʼd say, “Man, you need to go shed,” or “Iʼve been sheddinʼ hard.”
When I was around 11, I realized that sheddinʼ meant getting to the woodshed – practicing. By the age of 16, I understood what the shed was really about – hard, concentrated work.
When my brother Branford and I auditioned for our high school band, the instructor, who knew my father, was excited about Ellisʼ sons coming to the band. But my audition was so pitiful he said, “Are you sure youʼre Ellisʼ son?”
At the time, his comment didnʼt bother me because I was more interested in basketball than band. Over the next several years, however, I began practicing seriously.
Practice is essential to learning music – and anything else, for that matter. I like to say that the time spent practicing is the true sign of virtue in a musician. When you practice, it means you are willing to sacrifice to sound good.
Even if practice is so important, kids find it very hard to do because there are so many distractions. Thatʼs why I always encourage them to practice and explain how to do it.
Iʼve developed what I call “Wyntonʼs 12 Ways to Practice”. These will work for almost every activity – from music to schoolwork to sports.
1. Seek out instruction:
Find an experienced teacher who knows what you should be doing. A good teacher will help you understand the purpose of practicing and can teach you ways to make practicing easier and more productive.
2. Write out a schedule:
A schedule helps you organize your time. Be sure to allow time to review the fundamentals because they are the foundation of all the complicated things that come later. If you are practicing basketball, for example, be sure to put time in your schedule to practice free throws.
3. Set goals:
Like a schedule, goals help you organize your time and chart your progress. Goals also act as a challenge: something to strive for in a specific period of time. If a certain task turns out to be really difficult, relax your goals: practice doesnʼt have to be painful to achieve results.
You can do more in 10 minutes of focused practice than in an hour of sighing and moaning. This means no video games, no television, no radio, just sitting still and working. Start by concentrating for a few minutes at a time and work up to longer periods gradually. Concentrated effort takes practice too, especially for young people.
5. Relax and practice slowly:
Take your time; donʼt rush through things. Whenever you set out to learn something new – practicing scales, multiplication tables, verb tenses in Spanish – you need to start slowly and build up speed.
6. Practice hard things longer:
Donʼt be afraid of confronting your inadequacies; spend more time practicing what you canʼt do. Adjust your schedule to reflect your strengths and weaknesses. Donʼt spend too much time doing what comes easily. Successful practice means coming face to face with your shortcomings. Donʼt be discouraged; youʼll get it eventually.
7. Practice with expression:
Every day you walk around making yourself into “you,” so do everything with the proper attitude. Put all of yourself into participating and try to do your best, no matter how insignificant the task may seem. Express your “style” through how you do what you do.
8. Learn from your mistakes:
None of us are perfect, but donʼt be too hard on yourself. If you drop a touchdown pass, or strike out to end the game, itʼs not the end of the world. Pick yourself up, analyze what went wrong and keep going. Most people work in groups or as part of teams. If you focus on your contributions to the overall effort, your personal mistakes wonʼt seem so terrible.
9. Donʼt show off:
Itʼs hard to resist showing off when you can do something well. In high school, I learned a breathing technique so I could play a continuous trumpet solo for 10 minutes without stopping for a breath. But my father told me, “Son, those who play for applause, thatʼs all they get.” When you get caught up in doing the tricky stuff, youʼre just cheating yourself and your audience.
10. Think for yourself:
Your success or failure at anything ultimately depends on your ability to solve problems, so donʼt become a robot.
Think about Dick Fosbury, who invented the Fosbury Flop for the high jump. Everyone used to run up to the bar and jump over it forwards. Then Fosbury came along and jumped over the bar backwards, because he could go higher that way.
Thinking for yourself helps develop your powers of judgment. Sometimes you may judge wrong and pay the price; but when you judge right you reap the rewards.
11. Be optimistic:
How you feel about the world expresses who you are. When you are optimistic, things are either wonderful or becoming wonderful. Optimism helps you get over your mistakes and go on to do better. It also gives you endurance because having a positive attitude makes you feel that something great is always about to happen.
12. Look for connections:
No matter what you practice, youʼll find that practicing itself relates to everything else. It takes practice to learn a language, cook good meals or get along well with people. If you develop the discipline it takes to become good at something, that discipline will help you in whatever else you do.
Itʼs important to understand that kind of connection. The more you discover the relationships between things that at first seem different, the larger your world becomes. In other words, the woodshed can open up a whole world of possibilities.
More blogs about practice:
The door opens and, before a mother and her young daughter can turn the corner, I can see the top of a cardboard box (AKA case) containing a new guitar from Christmas. The child is a mixture of excitement and uncertainty. After a short greeting, the mom proudly opens the triangular cardboard case revealing the instrument that “Santa” brought for Christmas. She grabs the small, pink guitar by the neck, holds it up proudly, and asks with a smile, “What do you think?” My heart sinks, as I know that this instrument will surely be counterproductive for her learning. I can’t really blame a parent for their lack of education when buying an instrument, but this happens way too often. So, in this blog entry, I am posting a few reasons why parents should consider doing their homework and buying their kids a quality instrument from the outset.
1. Challenging to Play
Many cheap department store brands have certain characteristics that make them harder to play. For example, the fret edges may not be smooth, causing it to hurt one’s hands when sliding down to play chords. Another common occurrence is for the guitar to have high “action.” Action is how high the strings are from the neck. The higher the action, the harder it is to play. The problem with most cheaper guitars is that the action is playable closer to the nut (which is near the headstock), but it’s nearly impossible to fret a chord past the seventh fret. So, parents are required to spend money getting the guitar “set up” or getting the fret edges sanded down. This extra expenditure makes that “affordable” guitar not as affordable. More importantly, it makes the process of learning harder than it has to be.
2. Easily Breaks
I’ve seen it all: tuners coming apart, input jacks breaking, bad wiring in pickups, saddles coming unglued, and more. Cha-Ching… Before you know it, it costs more to repair your guitar than what you paid for it. Your guitar spends more time in repair than it does in the lesson room. Save yourself some time and money and invest in a decent instrument from the beginning from a reputable local store. You’ll have less chance of it breaking and you’ll be able to take it to the same place to have it serviced when necessary.
“But I don’t want to spend too much money if I am not sure they are gonna stick to it.” Sound familiar? Would you drive your child around in a cheap car seat that has bad ratings, could break easier, making it more probable to fail? Of course not! This attitude sets the tone of the guitar lessons. You are basically saying “I don’t have faith in this and I’m not willing to invest in it.” Not to mention, if you sign up your kid for lessons and buy them a guitar because they said they wanted to do it, then make them follow through. Worst case scenario is that you sell the guitar. Students are more likely to succeed if they start on a decent instrument and have supportive parents. That’s a fact. I’ve seen it over and over again.
The bottom line is this: you get what you pay for. A little extra money spent upfront will get you a better instrument with less headaches and repairs. Students can play it more easily and they will be more inspired; thus, they will learn faster. This investment will make the money you spend on guitar lessons more worthwhile. The attitude starts at the top. Next time you are considering buying an instrument for your child, consider these things and make sure that you are buying a decent guitar for lessons.
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Recently, one of our Freeway Music rock band classes was opening up for a band from Nashville called Dedsa. They were great guys that watched and supported every student. They complimented what we were doing with our students. One thing really stood out though. The manager said, “I really love that you are teaching you students stage etiquette!” It never really occurred to me to focus on that. I just shared it with our music students as practical advice. So, here are a few things that could improve your performance etiquette.
1. Give Props
Always give props to the bands that have played before you and the ones that will play after you, even if the bands don’t return the favor. It’s important to have the reputation of being supportive. Sometimes people didn’t catch the name of the last band. It also encourages your friends who came to see your band to stick around and check out the next band. Almost always, the other band will return the favor and give you props to their fans. Also, give props to the venue and its workers.
Whether headlining or opening, get out there and listen to the other bands, even if just for one song. Don’t be the “diva” band that is too good to get out and listen to the opener. At the same time, don’t be the band who plays and rolls. A music community needs to support each other. The bar for the level of support should start at the top with the musicians who are actually playing. Don’t set it low; lead by example!
3. Never Assume
Don’t assume anything, but be clear and communicate in advance. This applies to sharing gear, set time, sound check, the money breakdown, etc. Always iron out all details before the gig happens.
4. Sound Check
I could probably write a whole blog on soundcheck alone. Follow these three P’s: be punctual, prepared, and polite. Come to the venue on time or early. Have all the gear you need there and ready to move on stage. Cooperate with the sound guy and let him run the show. Whatever you do, don’t noodle incessantly or try to showcase your skills to the bar. Testing your gear for tone and volume is one thing, but everyone hates a “noodler.”
5. Moving Gear
If you aren’t a rockstar touring with roadies, don’t act like it. When you are finished, get your gear off stage as quickly as possible, as to help the other band get on. I like to offer to help bands move their gear on and off, whether I am opening or headlining; however, never assume that someone wants help. Some people are weird about other people touching or moving their stuff. It also can come off as though you are pressuring or rushing a band to get on or off stage. So, always ask!
6. Don’t Abuse Perks
If a place gives you one guest member per band, don’t try to stretch it or sneak people in. It’s their policy and they have a business to run. Again, don’t act like a rockstar when you aren’t. This applies to anything such as beverages or food. Don’t try to use your tab for friends or abuse how many beverages your or your band are drinking, as to leave none for the other band or band members.
7. Market Your Show
Blast the event on social media. Email your contacts and let them know about the event. Text everyone that you think might want to come. Put out posters. In general, just get the word out. It WILL make a HUGE difference. The club/venue owners will notice.
8. Be Cool
This sounds simple, but it’s so easy to screw this one up. Simply, be cool to other bands, the venue employees, fans, etc. Develop relationships with them. You will be surprised how this helps the future of your career.
9. Be Positive on Stage
It’s a blessing to be able to play and a blessing to share that with others. If that’s not your attitude, you are in the wrong business…move on! Whether or not you enjoy a gig is entirely up to you! Your energy will bleed over into your bandmates and the crowd. I’m always more impressed with guys that play for two people who give it their all, than a guy who plays for thousands and is half-hearted.
10. Do NOT Overreact to Mistakes
Mistakes WILL happen…so how will you react? The best players are “professional mistake cover-uppers.” Learn to take your mistake and make it seem intentional. Use the moments as opportunities for genius. It’s like drawing a three when you wanted to draw a 9. Turn it into a 9! When it happens, let it roll and think forward. NEVER reflect on it and think backwards. Typically, people will react more to your reaction of a mistake, than the actual mistake itself.
I hope these principles sink into you and that you will apply them to your next performance. You have a large responsibility to set the standard and make performances a better experience for everyone.
Check out my blog on Sound Check Etiquette
Matt Nelson’s Wisdom
My friend referred me to a guy named Matt Nelson that lived in Columbia, SC who used to hang with jazz legends. He said I should spend some time with him. So, I got his number and gave him a call. I drove over to his house near the airport. It was such an amazing time! Apparently, Matt was friends with two of jazz’s greatest guitar players, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. He even showed me Grant Green’s autobiography, where Grant mentioned Matt. Matt shared stories from meeting Wes Montgomery at a local jam to running into Charlie Parker at a candy store. He spun record after record, and shared so many great jazz artists with me.
Then, it came to play.
We went it to his music room where he had an array of beautiful and expensive guitars.
He generously placed a Benedetto in my hands and asked me to play. So, I launched off into a Thelonious Monk jazz blues song called “Blue Monk”. I was walking the bass line, while Comping the chords in between. Just as I thought I was doing a good job, he stopped me and said, “no, no, no…you are doing it all wrong!”. I was super confused. I thought I was playing it right. He said, “You need to be tapping your foot on 2 and 4.” I was tapping my foot on each quarter beat, which is what I thought you were supposed to do. Then, he demonstrated and asked me to try it.
So, I did, and I immediately felt a difference. It was way groovier! From that point forward, I began tapping my foot on two and four for a lot tunes, making them way groovier. I’m just thankful that I was able to spend time with Matt Nelson, because I my groove was forever changed that day. If you aren’t tapping your foot on two and four ever, go try it. It will blow your mind!
There are so many dynamics that shape a musician such as: practice, playing, writing, etc. Perhaps the thing that was most critical to my personal development was my failures. I learned from and was motivated by failures more than anything I’ve ever done with music. So, I would like to share a few failures with you that made me a better musician. Hopefully, you too can learn a little something from my failures. Maybe you can embrace the failures that are certain to come in your musical journey and learn how to churn them into positive energy.
Getting Stomped by “Donna Lee”
If you have ever followed jazz, you are aware of Charlie Parker. You are also probably aware that his heads are very challenging melodies to play. I just started working on a tune called “Donna Lee.” It was the toughest head I learned up to that point in my playing. One night, I headed over to an open jazz jam here in Columbia, SC. I sat in to play and the band counted off the tune at a murderous tempo. I hung in there for the melody, as then it came time for the solo…and I got crazy lost. The bass player was annoyingly yelling out chord changes to me.
Finally, I stopped playing at what I thought was the end of the form, but quickly realized I wasn’t sure of anything. So, the bass player and drummer crushed their solos. Then, they looked at me to start the head again. Thank God the bass player clued me in on where to come in again. We finished the song, and I haven’t played with those players since…hopefully, they will let that one slide from their memories…HAHA. I threw myself into a fire and “Donna Lee” roasted me.
I learned a lot about my playing, however. I realized I didn’t know the form as well as I once thought. I needed to practice the tune at various tempos and I needed to understand the overall format of jazz improv. So, naturally I went home and shedded that tune like crazy. Had I not had my butt kicked, I never would have pushed myself so hard. So, throw yourself into the fire. It can inspire you to get better if you have the right attitude.
Check out Part 2: Comping…What’s That?