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Mentoring Others

For many, many years now, I have been a teacher as well as a performer/recording artist. This has always put me in a unique position when it came to finding and evaluating talent. And boy, there have sure been a lot of talented guitarists to come through my door! I have always enjoyed helping them along in the process of also being a professional musician, which is obviously, also a very important part of the learning process!

Some students I enjoy taking into the studio and recording with, especially when it’s a new experience for them, and some have even become band members with me, or I have asked them to sit in with me at certain shows. This is always a thrill for them, as well as me, because it’s finally a chance for them to really show their “wares. And to test all that new-found knowledge in a “real life” situation! It’s always been beneficial to me to mentor players into my own band because what I have taught them is really “my” way of looking at the guitar, so if I need them to do something quite specific in a musical situation with me, they’ll be able to do it with little prompting. The best musical collaborations are certainly the ones where you can trust the players as much as possible, and where they really understand, instinctively, what you are looking for. This is always a pleasure, and the kinds of players I work with may only need an occasional “nudge” in the right direction to know what I need out of them.

But the mentoring process is really a great one, and I hope someday that you too will be a musical mentor to somebody. Young players are crying out for guidance, and they soak up new knowledge like a sponge! The players I have always had in my bands are also players whom I really respect as guitarists, and I love to not only give them cool roles to play within songs, but I also love to let them ”step out” and also solo as well. I also enjoy “trading off” licks with them, as this is a keen way to really encourage them to learn right on the spot…which is the true way I always learned the best, also….like my life depended on it!

So, to all you students out there, who I am either mentoring directly or indirectly, just remember that this act of “passing it on” in a mentoring fashion is just about the most giving thing you could ever do, ad it will continue to pay you back in positive dividends forever!


Posted: 7/9/2010 3:05:23 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Be a Good Band Member!

It’s really important as we move forward in our lives as musicians, that we learn to be a good band member. This is critical, as all inter-personal relationships with other players are crucial to our overall success. It also applies to not only long term band situations, but also to temporary happenings, such as recording dates, and short-term gigs and tours. There are many times when we are basically “forced” into what we think of as a ‘band” situation, and must adjust to it. It’s not always a “rosy” proposition either, as we can find ourselves having to deal with major egos, attitudes and problems that we sometimes just can’t foresee. 

In many professional situations I have had to confront, I have often found people to be true professionals, and that they also understood the “bigger” picture, and the importance of being selfless in a “band” situation. Many times, you may notice someone helping you when you least expect it….I can recall a session I had to do one time, where there were like 40 musicians in the studio, all ready to record, and it was the kind of thing where no rehearsal was required. The conductor was simply going to count it off, and we were going to have to READ the parts, right from letter A! Well, needless to say, I couldn’t read music, and the intro to the first piece was a guitar “harmony” duet! I was pretty much in a panic, and the other guitar player was so nice…he just kept saying, with seconds to spare “play this”, and then “play this”, each time, trying to show me what my part was! He was showing what a true professional does, and was just trying to contribute to the overall good of the session! He also was trying to help this poor non-reading kid (me!) to turn this session around into a positive for himself, rather than feeling like it was such a failure! He ended up overdubbing my part as well as his, and he certainly showed himself to be a true pro. I at least walked out of there feeling a little positive, with more of a “what can I do?” attitude, as opposed to just feeling crummy and down on myself. I suspect that he had at one time a similar thing happen to him, and that he had been in my shoes!

At early ages, many bands can get into silly and fruitless squabbles, which we then see many years later as being totally wasted energy! It’s far better to channel all of this into positive, productive energy, and to understand that negativity helps nobody, but that a positive experience really helps us all! So, be sure to always stay on the bright side when it comes to your early band experiences, because being a good band member will always make you popular, and everybody will want to be in a “band situation” with you!


Posted: 7/2/2010 3:25:30 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Let Your Own Style Develop!

I know that from the very beginning of me picking up the guitar, I have always been hell-bent on developing nothing short of my own style. Part of it starts to become pride, but it’s really just the nature of where I come from, and the kind of individualistic family I was raised in. I always looked up to my artist brother, who is ten years older than me, as well as my wonderful and encouraging father, also an artist as well as a cartoonist, who always encouraged me to be myself. Also, let’s face it, when you’re surrounded by that much creativity in your household you almost can’t help but turn out as a creative artist of some kind!

I also discovered over the years, that it has always been a better thing for me to let my own guitar style develop, as opposed to forcing myself into a cubbyhole I may not feel totally comfortable with. For example, Jazz always eluded me to a certain extent, but I knew that if I played enough and let myself evolve as a player, the Jazz aspects would start to “fall into place” within my playing. Sure enough, they have, and most of all, the theory knowledge I needed has also taken hold, giving me a deeper, as well as freer, approach to Jazz. I have always been a true improviser at heart, so this of course, also helped. Some of us though, are not so lucky, and even though this always takes work, you just never know how difficult this process may be for you. I think you have to be inspired by certain players along the way…this is important. Even I, at an early age, had periods where I just ate up styles, such as B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy and Clarence White. The difference was, I would take snapshots of their styles and techniques and then “plug them into” my own approach on the guitar, never losing sight of my real goal of originality! Because of this, I have always loved teaching. It’s rewarding to know that as I pass on my information to you, for example through Gibson.com, you are taking that material, and making it fir into your own developing style. One day, I want to hear YOU play, and want you to blow my mind!

In the end, we all teach ourselves, regardless of who helped us along the way. This is the true beauty of developing your own style, and you should relish every moment of it; it’ll only make you a much better player, and whenever people hear you, they’ll know it really IS you, and no one else! Best of luck on your guitar journey!


Posted: 6/25/2010 8:47:14 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Success on the Radio!

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This past week I had the great pleasure of starting my own radio show for the first time. It was truly a wonderful experience, and even though I’ve been on the radio a thousand times, this was certainly a totally different kind of adventure! It’s great fun to be able to be on the radio and speak your mind and have total control over which music you play, but it’s critical to keep the pace going, and to keep the listeners tuned in to that radio (or as is often the case now, that computer!) It’s on WPKN.org, for those of you who would like to track it down. They have it archived on the site now, so it can be listened to at any point. I warn you though...it's three hours!

I got to talk a lot of guitar, and we certainly played a lot of great guitar music, since that is the purpose of the show, as well as covering many topics and telling my wild and crazy stories from the road, the studio and from my life in general; especially my life in music. My sidekick on the show is my longtime friend, Roger D., who has seen me through almost all of it, and who started as my student back in 1976, when I lived in my first apartment in Manhattan. He has since that time, almost never missed any show I’ve ever played, and he knows every lick in my library!

I noticed that during my show, the feeling of pacing it and keeping it fresh was a similar feel to being onstage with my band, or even solo. It showed me that I had already learned a lot about this kind of thing from being a performer, and that having something like a radio show becomes an extension of this kind of ability to perform, and to keep an audience interested. I guess it’s like many “hurdles” one has to overcome if one wants to be rather “public”, such as public speaking, singing, or whatever it may be at the time. It’s also a wonderful builder of confidence, and I’d recommend it for anybody. I certainly though, DO recommend that you learn a little engineering too if you want to ever do a radio show, because without our intrepid man turning the dials, and flipping the switches for us, we would’ve been totally lost and frozen in front of those mics!

So maybe one day, you’ll give it a whirl, and you’ll end up on the radio…it’s a blast no matter which side of the microphone you’re on!


Posted: 6/18/2010 7:30:24 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Make Your Voice be Heard!

It’s always a dilemma when you are faced with a musical situation that emotionally affects you, and you need to speak out about it. There have been many instances for me where I simply HAD to say something, even if it meant possibly losing the gig. One thing is for sure, you never lose any respect for speaking out, in fact, you will most likely gain respect from your peers for being so up front and outspoken!

I can remember times, even with major acts, where I had simply “had it” with the pressure and the “abuse” that was being doled out that I sometimes went to extreme measures. I have certainly spoken out in situations like that, but also done things I wouldn’t advise, such as slamming guitars down, and one time, even throwing my guitar! (Not advised!) One thing that cannot really be tolerated at all is the situation that can exist when a band seems to be all against you. These inter-personal relationships are critical to making good music happily, and to your overall well-being. It can really be rough when it seems like everyone is against you, and you have to be able to find some kind of advocate to stand up for and with you, or you’ll have to do it on your own! No matter how it happens, you’ll feel much better once it’s over, and as I said, you’ll gain respect as the result of it.

There was one time on the road with John Prine’s band that the entire group decided to gang up on me and tell me they wanted to get rid of me, because I wasn’t “one of them!” So, they decided to do this in the middle of the Idaho desert, a million miles from home, and with me being only 22 years old, and quite new to touring, it had a very devastating effect on me. I was in shock, crying, etc., and it wasn’t until John’s manager, Al Bunetta, who remains a great friend to this day, stood up for me. He made it very clear to the band that the reasons they were against me was because they were jealous of me, and all that I was accomplishing, even outside of the realm of playing on the road with them! I was at that time, spending a lot of my extra time on the bus writing my new book, which I was very proud of. I had a three-book deal with Music Sales at the time, for Slide, Blues and Nashville guitar, and I was rightfully proud to be doing such a cool thing at such a young age. These guys, a lousy band at that, were real losers, in my opinion, and they just couldn’t handle the fact that I rather be working and doing something positive. Instead, they wanted me to be in their world, which consisted mostly of goofing off, getting high, chasing girls and generally not caring too much about the music they were playing.

In the end it all worked out, and it seemed as if that incident was what broke up the band for good, and in fact, Prine has never had another band since! Maybe he learned from that experience too! In any event, stay on top of these situations for yourself, and always be on the watch for adverse situations such as what I went through. You just never know when you’ll simply have to be heard, or when you’ll have to defend yourself to the max! Stay tuned for more ...


Posted: 6/16/2010 3:35:09 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Meeting Other Musicians for Jam Sessions

This is an important issue for any developing player, as the act of making music with others will spur you onto greater heights faster than just about anything else you will do! I always loved playing with others in my developing years, but it was very hard to find the right level of player, who would help me elevate my own abilities. These days, there are certainly many more good musicians than back then, and the lines of communication, such as the internet are also faster and broader than ever.

I used to get together with friends from school, after school, to jam on guitar, and those were some of the most rewarding “learning” times ever for me. I recently had the pleasure of getting together to jam with one of them, 41 years later, and what a thrill that was! We also talked about how much those early jamming days taught us, and we were able to compare notes these 41 years later all about our teaching, our playing careers, and all the experiences we have had since. It was also interesting since I have always been such a public figure, to see that he had really followed me and my career since those High School days. Needless to say, he was very proud of my accomplishments, and though he had not done so much professionally, I was still very proud of what a great player he had become. I guess the real reward is in knowing we each had something to do with each other’s development then, and later!

During this time for you, try to find players who make the guitar and music experience as rewarding as possible. This means to try and steer clear of people with bad attitudes, folks who are bossy, people who give you no respect, and well, you get the idea! No matter what your level of ability is, it’s critical that you feel respected, and that your ideas are heard. If someone just treats you like some “kid” who’s hanging around (which of course, even happened to me!) you can still take away something positive from the experience. Just be sure to concentrate on the music, and to make it count! These are very critically important times for you and your development as a player and person, and all of your experiences, good, bad or neutral will play an important role in your future. Make the most of them!


Posted: 6/11/2010 8:30:26 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Teaching the Teachers!

The other day, a student called me who I hadn’t given a lesson to for about 5 years. Totally out of the blue, as a result of running into him last September, he called me, saying he was looking for “new inspiration.” This was certainly rewarding for me to hear, as he had always been one of my favorite students, and also one of my proudest teaching achievements when it came to what he went on to become!

He told me that mainly he was a guitar teacher now, and that he had lots of beginners, but was at a loss for any new material to give the kids he sees as they were becoming more advanced. We started to jam, and I was in an instant, impressed with his maturity on the guitar, and I sure heard a lot of old “Arlen Roth” licks and influence that had become such a big part of him and his playing! It was an amazing thing to witness, as I had not seen him since he was really young, and I remembered him as more of an “observer” than a “player”. Yet, his playing sure reflected that his “observing” had really turned into good “playing” without a problem. I always loved how he played, but it was rare when he would feel like opening up enough to really perform in front of me. This time, he certainly had opened up, and was literally “hungry” for more input. He also credited my teaching style for always making it so clear for him, and I suspect he was trying to improve and enrich his teaching “chops” as well as his playing.

It was a really enriching for me as well, as his former and now, current teacher, to see the progress he had made over all that time, and to know that he was now enjoying teaching guitar himself. I do teach an awful lot of teachers, or certainly folks who have gone on to become teachers, and I enjoy the fact that I have made a difference to them, as well as inspired them in both the playing and teaching directions! After all, I have always found that especially being self-taught, the art of teaching has really helped me to more deeply understand what it is that makes me tick!

So, now I look forward to his coming all the time, and to entering a new phase of guitar education for him. It should be a really interesting ride though, because it’s very rare when I get to teach someone many years later, as an advanced player, when they actually started out with me, barely knowing even some guitar chords! Stay tuned, it should be fun, and I’m really looking forward to this new kind of teaching experience!

Posted: 6/9/2010 7:52:10 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Picking Up Licks!

No body knows about giving up licks to others than myself! After all, I created Hot Licks audio and videotapes, making it a totally “cool” thing for major artists and myself to “pass on” all the knowledge it took us years to acquire. I never worried about creating “another Arlen Roth” as the result of giving up all my licks and ideas, even though I must admit, I can hear my playing all over the place in the playing of others. I look at this as more of a compliment than anything, and there’s nothing really wrong with the fact that I helped accelerate the learning of others. I still feel that no matter how closely someone tries to replicate another player’s licks, he or she will certainly still end up sounding like themselves more than anything else. Regardless, I like the fact that I have really changed how people learn the guitar, and that of course, includes the lessons I have for you on Gibson.com.

The art of picking up licks from others for yourself really becomes an art form, as there are inspirations everywhere for you. It becomes essential that you learn to recognize phrases and places on the neck where other guitar players are playing, and how you can then take those ideas and make them your own. Keep in mind too, that so many guitar players have meant so much, such as Chuck Berry, B.B. King and others, that their licks are incredibly recognizable, and become more “quotes” than anything else. The influence is definitely there, but the sound and identity is undeniable. These are the kinds of licks you must become more careful about quoting too often, as they have always been strongly identified with those artists.

Still, above all, you should try to absorb and be able to “quote” as many licks, phrases and solos from your favorite guitarists. This is a great way to “jump start” your learning process, and in the end, will always lead to a further defining of your own style of guitar playing. I always found that it was better to capture the “essence” of another player’s sound or style, rather than copying them note for note, and then to simply move on and seek my own voice on the instrument. I hope you find yours….stay tuned to my lessons, my books, my DVDs and of course, ALL the playing you love to hear and want to emulate! You won’t be able to stop your OWN real voice coming through, even though you’re still “picking up licks!”


Posted: 6/2/2010 4:41:41 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

To Take Lessons or Not?

I think it’s always a good idea to get started with someone who is really experienced showing you a thing or two through guitar lessons. I am a self-taught guitarist for sure, and in the end, maybe we all are, but I also had some classical guitar lessons in the beginning that helped me gain a great deal of respect for the instrument we all know and love so dearly. I showed such a quick natural talent though, that the teacher simply dispensed with the use of music, since I picked everything up from watching and listening! I guess I was also making her job a lot easier too, with even realizing it!

Still, it set me off on the right path as far as my physical relationship to the guitar was concerned, and then all the “ear” stuff I was able to acquire afterwards came to me that much easier thanks to the foundation she had given me. This I see is also very true with many of the students I have now and have had over the years in terms of seeing them really “take off” as the result of many of the ideas and challenges I have given them.

I suppose this is the best thing you can hope for, is to have the kind of teacher who really does set those challenges for you, and who dares you to keep getting better. Some of my students I can see are literally “addicted” to my lessons, mainly due to the challenge that they need to keep them going. We aren’t all equally motivated, and some of you may benefit much more from a fairly structured regimen of lessons with a caring teacher, who is really tuned in to you and your level of expertise. The little bits of encouragement you may get from a teacher at the right time can really work wonders for your ego as well as your belief in your own playing abilities, and they sure helped mine.

So, as I’ve said before, in the end, “we all really teach ourselves”, but there’s nothing wrong with being taught, as well as inspired by someone whom we really respect as a teacher, and who really respects us as players/students! Best of luck in your continued learning quest!


Posted: 5/26/2010 3:21:55 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Getting Your Songs Heard!

Sooner or later, all of us will try our hand at some songwriting. I actually believe we ALL have songs within us that are just waiting to come out, and whether you are an extremely disciplined “tunesmith” with a well-honed songwriting craft, or you are just a beginner stumbling upon song ideas right and left, sooner or later, you’d like these tunes to be heard!

And what I mean by heard is not just in front of an audience, but getting them to other artists who may possibly want to record them on their own projects, in addition to folks who may need material for commercials, jingles or even movie soundtracks!

It’s a very exciting prospect, the thought of your music being heard and recorded by others, and you’ll be surprised at how receptive outside parties can be. I know myself for example, that even though I am a person who steadfastly writes his own material, I am incredibly open to new songs and ideas that others may have, and have many times wanted to record great songs written by others who have not had them recorded yet. Perhaps this comes from the fact that I am an artist who also loves to do my own versions, or “covers” of other well-known tunes, but I am still just as willing to listen to new creations as well!

In places like Nashville, “Music City” itself, there is a more shall we say, “structured” approach to the presentation of songs to artists. There is an entire network of artists, managers, agents and publishers ready to listen, and they are always looking…Country music is famous for being very “songwriter driven”, and artists are always searching for that next big hit, as well as songs they can relate to for themselves. It’s amazing to think of how many tunes so seemed to be truly “of that artist”, but weren’t even written by them. That’s when you know it was a good song “find” for them, and that they chose wisely. I guess the key is to really be persistent, and if you get enough songs “placed”, you may be able to hook up with a big publisher who will keep sending you requests for your songs by artists just hungry for new material!

Regardless of all the ins and outs of the business, which we will also get into in more depth in future blogs, the most important aspect of this is fine-tuning your songwriting skills. It’s important to be the best you can be, and always stay true to your style. Sure, it’s a great exercise to write “for” someone, imagining if the song were for say, George Jones or Dolly Parton or B.B. King, but that is a “skill within a skill” and you never want to become a “copycat” writer, who thinks that as long as you write something similar to what an artist has already done, you’ll be successful! This happens way too often in the business in general, and it’ll always keep you one step behind everyone! So, stay original, hone your skills, and keep your ears open to what sounds good to you when it comes to song ideas! More on this in future installments!

Posted: 5/21/2010 11:00:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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