Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Captain Beefheart's 10 Rules for Guitar Playing

Presented without comment, because to even try would be to miss the point.

Captain Beefheart’s “Ten Commandments of Guitar Playing”

1. Listen to the birds
That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.
2. Your guitar is not really a guitar.
Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is
also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.
3. Practice in front of a bush.
Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.
4. Walk with the devil.
Captain Beefheart
Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re brining over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.
5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out.
If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.
6. Never point your guitar at anyone.
Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.
7. Always carry a church key.
That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty — making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.
8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument.
You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.
9. Keep your guitar in a dark place.
When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.
10. You gotta have a hood for your engine.
Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Hallelujah I Love Her So" Transcription

I had to learn "Halleluja I Love Her So" by Ray Charles for a gig I had awhile back. Normally when I learn a tune and it comes to the solo, I like to improvise my own. But I always check out the original to see if there's anything I like, or even better, something I should steal.

Don Wilkerson
When I got to the solo section of this tune, I was so knocked out by Don Wilkerson's tenor sax solo I knew I had to learn it and play it on the gig—something I almost never do.

It turns out I'm not the only one who thinks it's great: even the Wikipedia entry on this song mentions the sax solo (how often does that happen?) describing it as "memorable."

Wilkerson was a new player to me, but there's nothing I like more than finding out the names of guys on classic records and seeing how their lives intertwined with people I already knew about and what else they were up to. It turns out Wilkerson's career included working with guitar great Grant Green and Cannonball Adderley—two of my favorites—in addition to being a sideman of Ray Charles.

Don's Approach

So why is this solo so memorable? I hate to keep going back to the same well but it turns out that well has a lot of water in it—this solo makes brilliant use of chord tones (for a video and post about chord tone soloing, click that link) as well as Blues language and chromatic approach notes. It's a master class in how to navigate these kind of advanced, Blues-based tunes.

Have a listen to the song and solo (Wilkerson's solo starts about 1:22) and come back for the transcription.


The solo transcription with accompanying analysis is to the right so you can follow along and a link
to a PDF you can download is at the bottom of the post for guitarists (with TAB) as well as a Bb and Eb version for horn players.

The Quick and Dirty Theory Breakdown

What's Don Wilkerson got going on in this solo? The answer is some pretty hip use of chromatic lines to fill out what is basically a straight up chord tone solo. Let's have a look.

In the first 4 measures, Wilkerson emphasizes the harmony by playing on the chords. Each time he does this nicely by using a repeated Bb Blues figure (over the Bb7 chord) that in each case anticipates the arrival of the Eb7 chord. What do I mean by "anticipation?" It means, he plays notes from the Eb7 chord (in this case Db and G) a full two beats before the Eb7 chord comes in bars 2 and 4 -- anticipating the chord before it arrives:


The next 4 bars have some great Bb Blues material over the Bb7 chord—not a surprise there. But notice what happens in bar 8 when the chord changes to Eb7. He plays an Eb right on the downbeat, walks up chromatically to G (the 3rd of Eb7), then starts a chromatic walkup to E natural which is the root of the next chord (Edim7) on the downbeat of bar 9—two, cool chromatic approach lines in a row landing on a chord tone that's coming up. This shows his thought process, anticipating the next chord, in this case a beat early by starting a chromatic walkup to it.



It's this kind of playing that really sets up tension (chromatic movement) and release (hitting chord tones) beautifully and makes for a great solo.

The final 5 bars of the solo (starting at bar 9) has him doing a nearly total chord-tone solo with the exception of a couple chromatic approach-notes.

Mimicking this kind playing, especially the chromatic lines can really add some flavor to your playing and this is a great solo to learn and steal material from.

To me the most valuable material here is the chromatic approach lines which really add a lot of flavor to this solo. If you've already learned how to play a chord tone solo (and you definitely should), this is the next step in filling out your playing and giving it life.

A Final Note About Learning Other Instruments' Solos

I've made it a habit for at least the last ten years to get away from learning guitar material (with the exception of Wes Montgomery) and when I do transcribe something, to make sure it's another instrument. The reason is, I already know how to play guitar. I'm more interested in developing my own style further, not copping the style of another guitar player.

Want to learn how to comp and come up with new chord voicings? Try learning a Bill Evans piano solo. Want to challenge your technique and command of BeBop language? Learn a Charlie Parker solo. Want to learn about space and pocket playing? Learn a Bootsy Collins bass line.

Learning another instrument's solo forces you out of focusing on guitar playing and onto playing music. And if it's difficult enough, like the Charlie Parker solos I've been working on, they're like etudes. In order to play the more difficult horn lines, you have to figure out technical solutions that you'd never encounter playing guitar. It makes you a better player, but more importantly a better musician.

Downloads:

Guitar chart
Bb chart
Eb chart

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"The Oracle" for Bb Instruments

A reader asked for a Bb version of the Steve Coleman solo transcription for "The Oracle" I posted a while ago. Just wanted the rest of you to know it's up if you need it.

Here's a direct link to the PDF: Steve Coleman The Oracle Bb.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nile Rodgers Clinc Reveals the Funk

You have to dig a little to get the diamonds out of this clinic by the great Nile Rodgers, but it is
absolutely worth it if you're a songwriter or enjoy playing funk guitar.

Be patient. It starts a little slow, but once Nile gets into voicings and harmony and how he simplifies complex ideas you'll realize how good this is.

For reference, in case you don't know who Nile is -- He was was a session guitarist in NYC and played with the Sesame Street band in his teens and then began work as the house guitarist at the Apollo Theater. He has also written a slew of number one hits as well as produced hit records by the likes of Madonna, Duran Duran, INXS, David Bowie and plenty more. Plus, he's just funky and damn good.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rhythm is Music

My friend and sometime-bandmate Antonio Sanchez scored and played the drums for the Alejandro
Sanchez
González Iñárritu film "Birdman."


He has gotten a tremendous amount of positive reviews from critics including a Golden Globe nomination and from fellow musicians as well for his exemplary work on the film. 

For reasons that are frankly unclear, the Academy Awards barred him from being eligible for a nomination for best score. Their reason seems to mostly stem from a statement that the film also incidentally uses some classical music. However, Antonio's music makes up more than 50% of the film score (their requirement) and is, by far, the element that stands out when the music of the film is recalled. 

The director himself has stated publicly the importance of Antonio's contribution to the success of the film:
"...if I would have put another good classical piece it would be the same film. [However] The film would not be the same without Antonio Sanchez's drums. That’s why it hasn’t been unnoticed because it’s so unique and it has such a personality that not to qualify it is to say ‘drums aren’t important, we don’t consider that composing’."
You can read about the issue here if you're unaware.

‘Birdman’ Score Drummed Out Of Oscars As Academy Rejects Filmmaker’s Appeal


I'm asking all of you, if you have a Facebook or Twitter account to post #rhythmismusic in order to draw attention to this oversight of his incredible work. 

The Oscar committee is famously averse to creative, non-standard approaches to film and now apparently music, instead mostly rewarding big budget, paint by numbers dramas. They're often criticized for this approach, urged to celebrate creativity and risk takers. Maybe if we nudge them a little, they can at least consider doing this instead of just outright rejecting it.

One more time music and film fans, please Tweet or post on Facebook #rhythmismusic

Thanks.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Performance with Sting on Late Night with David Letterman

Well, that was fun.

I performed a few times with Sting this past Thursday and Friday and I'm still reeling from the experience.

The guy is the real deal, a true musician and totally pro. It was an inspiring few days of rehearsal and performances where I got to play with one of my favorites. If you had told me at 15 when I was an avid Police fan I would get to play with Sting one day, I probably would have died on the spot.

Here is a video of the performance and a couple extra behind the scenes shots from the show as well as a shot from a late gig we did Thursday night where I got to play "Every Breath You Take" on my new custom Grosh ElectraJet.

Thank you to Don Grosh and Bob Smith at Grosh Guitars and Amilcar Dohrn-Melendez at Cordoba Guitars for providing me with such beautiful instruments.



It's freezing in that theater. Sting is on the left with the hat, scarf and jacket.

Later that night at a gig, playing Every Breath You Take on my Grosh ElectraJet


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sting on Letterman and Live with Kelly and Michael

I'll be performing with Sting on The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS), Thursday December 11 and on Live! with Kelly and Michael (ABC) on Friday morning, December 12 (which will air December 23) in addition to a late night small gig Thursday night after Letterman that is already sold out.
I'm not sure what else to say about this other than, holy crap I'm playing with Sting. I've been listening to The Police since I was 14 and continued to be a fan of Sting after he went solo. This one falls under bucket list.