Monday, April 21, 2014

Top 10 Ways to Improve Everything Now

A friend turned me on to this great piece by guitarist and songwriter Bryan Baker called the Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Guitar Playing Now -- however I'm calling it the Top 10 Ways to Improve Everything Now.

I've been thinking about lot of these things lately but have never seen them articulated so well and with humor in one place. Though the piece is written with guitar players in mind, it is applicable to any instrument and I'd argue any discipline. Well done Bryan. It's a great and funny read, check it out.

Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Guitar Playing Now

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

This is Why You Keep Practicing

This has been making the rounds lately though this is the first I've seen of it in video-form. Absolutely worth watching if you haven't seen it, and watching again if you have.

Ira Glass of This American Life fame explains why you have to keep going, in any creative field. I'm not one big on inspirational quotes and what have you, but this is inspirational because it doesn't rely on hope or new-agey wishes, it relies on his actual experience.

Super short, give it a look.

For myself, I've been in the woodshed for the past three months working solely on Charlie Parker solos and trying to address some fundamental problems in my playing that have bothered me over the years.

I'll have a video up soon on addressing ii V's, both Major and Minor and the best way to practice them.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jim Hall, One of the Greatest

I was just telling a friend how one of the most mind-blowing things I ever saw was Jim Hall playing "All the Things You Are" solo with the melody as the bass line and he reharmonized all the chords on top. I only realized what song he was playing about midway through and my head nearly exploded. What a talent. Gone but not forgotten

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jonatha Brooke

Jonatha, yours truly and cellist Rebecca Arons

I just finished five days in the great city of Minneapolis, MN rehearsing and performing with extraordinary artist and musician Jonatha Brooke.

I've been a fan of Jonatha's since I was in college in Boston when I first heard her band The Story back in the early '90s. I've followed her career with The Story and then her solo career since then. I've been envious of some friends who have gotten to work with her over the years. And then one day the call came...

I don't mind sounding like a doe-eyed fan when I say to work with her is an actual dream come true for me.

So here is to dreams coming true.

Monday, August 5, 2013


Many of you have noticed the lack of posting for a couple months on this site and commented on it. I'm thankful that so many of you visit so frequently.

The thing is, it's Summer.

It's tough during a good week for me to get a post up on this blog as I'm a working musician which means a lot of scrambling, traveling, hustling, practicing and a generally erratic schedule. But now it's summer (admittedly, the tail end) and I've been trying to be a normal person and enjoy this time a year. I hope you are too.

Rest assured, I have a few transcriptions (Joe Zawinul, Adam Rogers), odds and ends of posts (substitutions, inversions) and ideas for video (expanding the blues, Melodic Minor substitutions) ready to go or nearly so. I just won't return to any type of regular posting until late September. But for now and the past couple months, it's been time to take a break and go outside.

Enjoy the rest of this time of year and keep practicing. I'll see you late September.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Transcription/Pentatonic Lesson: "The Song Remains the Same" Guitar Solo

The Guitar Solo That Taught Me How to Play Fast
I think my favorite Led Zeppelin record is Houses of the Holy, and part of the reason is the right-out-of-the-gate attack of track 1, "The Song Remains the Same."

Between Jimmy Page's electric 12-string chords, the thunderous sound of John Bonham's drums, and the incredibly melodic bass playing of John Paul Jones, you knew this was a band at their peak. I was hooked the first time I heard it.

Probably more importantly, as a guitar player, when I heard Page's ripping, 8-bar solo before the vocals even came in I knew I had chosen the right instrument for me.

When I first started playing guitar I didn't have the chops to play this short solo so I would try and fake it, just getting as close to it as I could. I finally just gave up until a few years later when I finally had some technique together.

When I did get it together, I realized how formative this piece of playing was. This is the solo that taught me many things, the first of which was how to play in a fast, loping style using pull-offs and hammer-ons similar in style to Bluegrass playing. 

If you're a guitar player and think of yourself as technically challenged, this solo can help you understand that with minimal effort, you can use techniques you probably already have together to play impressively long, fast lines without having to spend hours getting your right-hand chops together. Not that there's anything wrong with getting your right-hand chops together.

The second, and probably more important thing I learned from this solo was though Jimmy uses what I thought of at the time as the Blues Scale (it wasn't—just a Minor Pentatonic with one case of an added note), the sound had a Major soundD Major to be exact. 

This was a revelation to me. The idea that you could use a scale in more than the way its name implied.

A PDF is available below
To the right is the transcription and TAB for the solo, a PDF is available at the end of this post. Continuing below is an analysis and lesson on the use of the Minor Pentatonic scale and how it's the same thing as the Major Pentatonic scale, and all that implies.

If you just want the tl:dr version of this analysis and lesson, scroll to the bottom of this post. But if you want to learn how and why this all works, read on.

Minor = Major
  "The Song Remains the Same" has solo chord changes that are relatively simple—just a back-and-forth between a D Major and Dsus4 chords with the final 10 bars in basically D Minor.

Any of you with a passing knowledge of Pentatonics and keys can see that in the first 8 bars of the solo, Jimmy is using what you probably think of as a B Minor Pentatonic scale. 

But why is he using B Minor Pentatonic over D Major chords? Because they're the same thing.

Let that sink in a second. B Minor = D Major. If this is new to you, you're probably thinking, "How can that be? Aren't Major sounds and Minor sounds opposites?" Not at all. 

Music Theory Beatdown Ahead
In music theory, the relationship between B Minor and D Major is referred to as Relative Keys. So in this world, B Minor is the Relative Minor of D Major. And likewise, D Major is the Relative Major of B Minor.

With the knowledge that you can transpose keys (change them) and you'll still retain the same relationship between the notes, let's move the above example up a half-step (on the guitar that would be up one fret). 

B Minor up a half-step is C Minor and D Major up a half-step is D# Major/Eb Major (same thing). So, C Minor and Eb Major are Relative Keys—C Minor is the Relative Minor to Eb Major and Eb Major is the Relative Major to C Minor.*

Why The Hell Am I Telling You This? 

Because I'm about to make your improvising life a lot easier.

Now, if you've taken the time to learn the Minor Pentatonic scale, and then taken a little more time to learn the Major Pentaonic scale, you wasted your time because, they're the same thing.

Let me show you what I mean. Here are the notes of B Minor Pentatonic followed by the notes of D Major Pentatonic:

B Minor Pent: B D E F# A
D Major Pent: D E F# A B

See that? D Major Pentatonic has the exact same notes, just starting on a different degree of the scale.     

This not only can shake up your improvising, but if you're a songwriter or an aspiring arranger, your chord choices too.

Bottom Line It For Me
But what does that mean to you right now? If you're one of the multitude of musicians who use the Minor Pentatonic scale over everything, including over Major chords (for instance, applying D Minor Pentatonic over a D Major chord), this fact just doubled the amount of mileage you can get out of the scale you already know.

Here's the simplest way to apply it: over a Major or Dominant 7 chord, improvise using the Minor Pentatonic scale with its root (first note) a Minor 3rd, or 3 half-steps down (on a guitar that's 3 frets down) from the chord you're playing over. 

So for instance, over an A Major chord, play the F# Minor Pentatonic scale. Over a D Major Chord, play the B Minor Pentatonic—which is exactly what Jimmy is doing in "The Song Remains the Same."

Go to your instrument right now and try it. Look at where the note A is on your instrument and just go down 3 half-steps, you'll land on F#. If you can, have an A Major chord ringing and then play the F# Minor Pentatonic scale over it. Go ahead, I want you to hear that. I'll wait.

Hear it? That F# Minor Pentatonic is good for every A Major chord you come across. Likewise, over a C7 chord, play the A Minor Pentatonic scale. Over an Eb Major chord play the C Minor Pentatonic scale, and so on.

What's Going On here?
In music theory world, what you're doing is playing one of the chord scales (F# Minor Pentatonic) for the Relative Minor of its Relative Major (A Major). That's a mouthful, I know. But look, here's why it works:

 That F# Minor Pentatonic scale has 3 out of the 5 notes contained in the chord you're playing over (A Major), and two additional, cool "chord tensions" F# (the 13th) and B (the 9th). (A note that is not contained in the chord you're playing over is referred to in theory as a "tension" because it creates tension in the music and wants to resolve to one of the chord-tones (for a post and video about chord-tone soloing, click here)).

That's why that Minor Pentatonic works so well over the Major chord and this is precisely what Jimmy Page was exploiting in the transcription above.

You Said There Were Implications for Chords Too
That was the potatoes, here comes the gravy—on to the bonus material.

Without getting into chord substitution too deeply, remember when I said B Minor is the same thing as D Major? Well it works with chords too.

Now I know to your ear, you perceive a D Major chord and a B Minor Chord as being vastly different and I would agree with you, but there's something in music called Chord Substitution and there's a worked out system for it. Here's a quick example.

You can, without fear of prosecution from music fans or critics, substitute the Relative Minor chord for its Relative Major chord. For example, say you wrote a chord progression for a verse that goes:

D Major / / / |  G Major / / / | A7 / / / ||

The next time the verse comes around you want something a little different, a change of mood. You can substitute B Minor for that D Major beautifully:

B Minor / / / |  G Major / / / | A7 / / / ||

If this is new to you, try playing it right now.

Will it sound different? Of course it will but it will also work and might be a nice change of pace from your original chord progression.

So remember, the chord substitution concept works exactly the same way as the our scale application.

Wrap It Up
Get this into your playing, now. It's amazing the worlds that will open up for you when you understand this simple concept. Some of you are probably wondering if Jimmy knew about the theory behind what he was doing in his solo.

Who cares? I don't. He applied this principle, conscious or not in his killer solo because it sounded good. You can do the same thing.

Have fun with this. More Pentatonic usage to come.


If the above was too much for you to read or process and you just want the tl:dr version, here it is:

Over Major chords if you want to sound good, play a Minor Pentatonic scale built on the note a Minor 3rd below the Major chord. For instance, B Minor Pentatonic over D Major chords. Why you ask? Because it sounds nice. Have a good day.


For a PDF of the above transcribed solo,

*Here is a breakdown of every key with its Relative Major and Minor in a chart. Don't be intimidated by the circle graphic at the top right of the page, just look at the table below. It's simple and gives all the information you need.