USA: 1-800-4GIBSON
Europe: 00+8004GIBSON1
GibsonProductsStoreNews-LifestyleLessonsCommunity24/7 Support

Always Keep It Simple!

Arlen Roth Les Paul

This is the kind of “catch phrase” we always seem to hear, just like we always hear “less is more”, but these expressions are tried and true, and certainly exist for a real reason! The problem is that as young players mature, and as they want to emulate their heroes these days, they all seem to want to drive the “Corvette before the Rambler!” Everybody wants to pick up the guitar, and suddenly go from zero to sixty in 3 seconds flat! The difficulty then becomes the ability to actually slow down, and “keep it simple!”

I have always thought that keeping it simple and playing with “good taste” definitely go hand in hand, but one must first be able to put this philosophy of playing into real action. It takes real life experience, where you have to do the kinds of sessions and live shows that I did and continue to do to this day for so many years. It takes hearing criticism from those who you thought only “loved” everything you played, and it takes that act of “survival” that can only occur in real-life situations of do or die recording sessions, and live shows in front of critical audiences. Most of all though, it takes having a “knack” for knowing what is required of the given musical situation, and how to utilize your entire arsenal to pare it down to the bare essentials of what would actually sound the best for the given tune.

This doesn’t mean you must always “keep it simple”, as of course, there are plenty of musical pieces that require all kinds of breakneck speed playing, and many songs that are literally “built for speed!” That’s also an important requirement of the tasteful guitar player who must know when to “let go” or when to “hold back.” Holding back always seems to be the harder route to take, but if you’ve ever really concentrated on what hit records sound like, you’ll always see that the “producer” always went for the simpler, more direct route in terms of the guitar parts. In other words, many of the simplest of guitar parts and solos over the years were really played by folks with such unbelievable “chops”, that they had no choice but to “hold back” and keep it tasteful, and most of all, play “for the song!”

So keep this in mind as you move forward in your music-making, and heed my words to the wise! I’ll be discussing this more in later Blog entries, but for now, try “keeping it simple” as a true exercise in taste and restraint. It can be the best part of being a player!


Posted: 6/14/2012 3:21:13 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Never Lose Hope!

In this crazy, fast-moving and most of all, fickle era we live in, it can be sometimes very easy for an up-and-comer to be a bit discouraged and to lose hope of eventually making something really happen! Even in the old days, I did have moments such as this, but I really never gave up, especially since I was so on “my own path”, and had so much encouragement and positive feedback from others, including of course, my folks.

I love trying to instill some of this hope in my students, regardless of age. I mean, of course younger players need this consistently, but never underestimate the emotional needs of a Sixty-something guitar player who feels like he or she has missed the boat when it came to learning the guitar, and who now needs it just for sheer pleasure and personal expression. I love to encourage them all and each age group and type has its own set of needs and emotional as well as physical requirements.

One of the first things to realize is that when you show a lot of promise at an early age, even though there are people like me who love to encourage, there can be some real “no-goodniks” who seem to get just as much of a thrill out of loving to discourage!  Yes, it’s hard to believe, but that is a fact, and the earlier you get to understand this reality, the easier it will be in the long run to recognize these people and simply discard the bad message they try to bring! I started to see this when I was very young, and it always seemed that the better I did, the more there were those who wanted to tear me down. For what reason, I really can’t tell you, but it sure must’ve had a lot to do with their own feelings of inadequacy, not to mention some good old jealousy thrown in for good measure!

In the end though, you will always see that your persistence is what will always prevail, and the belief in yourself is what you must “stick to”, even as you continue on the endless road towards getting better as a person and of course, as a player. I know for many too, it can become frustrating when you hit a “road block” on the way to better playing, and even today, as someone recognized me in the local deli, and asked “so how’s the guitar business going?” they then proceeded to tell me how in their entire life, they never, ever had anyone to help them understand ear training! All I could say to myself was, “boy, I wish this guy knew me earlier!” Yes, we all really teach ourselves, but the right encouragement at the right time, as well as our own belief systems is what will truly help put us “over the top” and across the “finish line” as guitarists, and as people!


Posted: 6/12/2012 3:37:47 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Encouraging Young Talent!

As a teacher, and also as a performer who was always encouraged by my parents at a very young age, I am always quick to encourage and display those young players that I believe really “have it.” This has been true forever, and I really believe that it’s the manner in which I was encouraged that really helps me “pass it on” to others. It’s a joy that I have been able to give my daughter Lexie, (and of course, her late older sister, Gillian) and even though it is always bittersweet and full of pain over the loss of my precious daughter at the age of 14, I still manage to somehow keep going, and am finally able to care enough to see it in others beyond my family.

You must understand that after the accident that killed both my wife and daughter, I couldn’t even pick up a guitar for several months, even though some tried to make me, and even tried to trick me into playing for their own selfish reasons. No matter what, it was totally up to me to know when was the right time for me to feel like I could “move on” with certain aspects of my life, and to try to heal, even if just a little bit.

Well, one of the truest signs of this partial “healing process” is that I love to teach kids again, and that there is a genuine connection between me and them. They immediately pick up on the fact that I am a natural “Daddy”, who loves to encourage them, and who wants to see the best in them, but at the same time, I have learned not to be the kind who “pushes” them to the point of making them literally hate and dread the instrument!

I teach a wonderful little girl, Alexx Hoffmann, and her brother Jake Hoffmann, and Alexx has shown a real natural ability to come up with terrific songs and lyrics, often made up “on the fly” in front of people, with a poise that belies her age (just turned 7!), and of course, she just plays so wonderfully that it makes her happy, as she loves to be creative with everything I’ve shown her! It’s the perfect example of how one can take just a little musical information, and really “run with it”….writing songs, having new ideas, and really using her ear and all her creative abilities to make the most of what she knows.

The potential is mind-boggling, and she performed on Memorial Day with me and my daughter Lexie at our concert, and she was so poised, confident and relaxed! I was so proud of her, and I must admit, I was especially proud of this little one, as she made me think of my daughter Gillie, and all of her talent, poise and brilliance, not to mention all the feelings that I know her parents, her brother and my daughter Lexie must have been experiencing while watching her! Hey, I even backed her up, and was her “sideman” as well as her teacher! Nothing like encouraging and working with young and promising artists, who have the entire world ahead of them!


Posted: 6/7/2012 2:18:32 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

How Jazzy to Go?

In my experience I have always let my styles and techniques evolve as needed, and since I have always come out sounding only like myself, with my own style, I have always trusted my ears, hands and the progression that they take. This, in recent years has also been true of my assimilation of Jazz. The problem with only “concentrating” on one particular musical vein is that you end up sounding exactly like that!  These days we are filled up with those people who dove head first into Jazz, leaving all other style behind, and they really pretty much all end up sounding the same. The real problem, (and this applies to blues as well) is that what we are hearing and learning now is all at least 3rd or 4th generation down the line, and instead of the music being fresh and new, it’s all been worked over and analyzed to death!

The very nature of Jazz means experimentation, and it’s not the goal to just “sound like” a Jazz player, but more to simply be one! I can recall years ago when I was playing at Lincoln Center with the African singer, Tony Bird, a man came up to me and said “you know, you play in the truest form of Jazz tradition!” This really kind of turned me around, because at that time “Jazz” seemed like a mystery to me, and I felt just about as far away from it as possible. But what he made me realize and see was that I was a true improviser, and that I never did the same thing twice. My quest was already to be as fresh and as creative as possible, and even though I may not have been using a ton of flat 5s or sharp 9s, I was already maximizing everything I could possibly use with my knowledge base.

As time has gone on, I have left myself more “open” to the sounds of Jazz, and can now much more easily recognize what a player who used to baffle me completely, is actually doing! This is a wonderful revelation to feel, but it’s really not that much different from listening to a Country player or Blues player and trying to emulate them. It’s just a question of, amongst that “blur” of notes, to be able to recognize something that you can “hang your hat on” so that you can get a sense of what is familiar about the “unfamiliar!”

It also has to come from you no longer being afraid to play some wrong notes, because that is bound to happen. You will, and must learn from your mistakes, and there’s tons of “trial and error” in assimilating Jazz or any style for that matter. Make sure to start “hearing” your intervals, and learn to recognize tonalities such as 6ths and 9ths, major 7ths, sharp 9ths and sharp 5ths, to name just a few. Listen to single-line players, such as Coltrane, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. These people couldn’t play chords like guitarists, and they had to rely on “shaping” their phrases. This will help you do the same. Eventually, you’ll be able to listen to a complex Jazz chord, and say exactly what it is, understanding all of its tonal relationships! So I hope you really “go for it”, and can acclimate yourself to blending Jazz into your style. Many great guitarists have…just listen to Hank Garland or Danny Gatton, T-Bone Walker and many others, and you’ll see what I mean! Good luck!


Posted: 5/31/2012 3:00:24 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Learning as You Go!

There’s no doubt, no matter how much you may “think” you know right now, you’ll certainly be always “learning as you go” in this wild world of being a musician. This is unquestionably a good thing, as it’s really the process that makes life and music enjoyable, as opposed to resting on one’s laurels, and feeling as if they’ve already played and done it all!

I know that I still amaze myself at just how I continue to learn and actually refine my ear and what it is I really know in music. It’s as if your ability to learn and be creative continues no matter what age you may live to! It actually is a fact that they’ve learned that we all do in fact continue to refine and get even more creative as time goes on. Just look at the many great artists and musicians who remained [productive and creative right up to their final days. I just lost my Dad, Al Ross, who was a great artist and a famous New Yorker Magazine cartoonist, and he was drawing, sketching and generally creatively expressing himself right up to the end. He understood the relationship between staying alive and his art and creativity playing a key role in that. Basically, once you’ve really made that commitment to be “at one” with your music, or any artistic medium you chose, it has now become a big part of your “life stream” and will always be important to your happiness and your survival.

Music and the guitar has always been an important part of who I am, and certainly of how I am, too! I can recall when I was first starting out, that just to see my name in a tiny article, or on the first record I was on, was such a big deal to me….now, articles seem to come out every day, and while they’re enjoyable, I really hardly pay any publicity any mind. It has to be something really earth-shaking for me to take notice, and to feel really happy about it. What matters most to me is the music. At the end of the day, I have to know whether or not I am satisfied with my new album, or my latest performance. It’s not like I’m some sort of “perfectionist”, but I must feel as if what I have created was art, and if it was truly connected to me, and most of all, is it something I can happily “live” with?!

As I look back on my work over the years, I can easily see and hear that I’ve always been learning, and that I was always letting the listener “in” on the process. Again, it’s sort of not only “learning as you go”, but also “documenting” the process as well! Those of us who can document our learning process are certainly the luckiest as artists, and we must always continue to strive for the best and most creative aspects of what we can do, and what we can continue to learn!


Posted: 5/24/2012 4:01:43 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Great Night to Release a New Album!

I recently had the pleasure of playing two sold out shows at the famous Iridium Club in NYC for the release of my new album, All Tricked Out! It was a great and very supportive crowd, including many folks I knew, and it was great working in a new 2nd guitarist, Chris Foley into my band!

I like to play hi-energy sets, with a few nice emotional ballads thrown in for good measure, especially since that’s what a lot of people expect from me. There was a second set, which is unusual for me, and it can be very hard to “get up” for that second show, especially when you feel like you’ve shot the entire emotional and physical load in the first set! I think I must’ve played 20 songs in that first show, many old favorites, as well as 4 or 5 from the new album. The CD was very well-received, and we sold quite a few.

My daughter Lexie, graced the staged with her presence also, and she did about 4 songs with us and really got the place rocking! She has grown so much as a singer and performer over the last few years, and has a new album of all-original compositions, as well as a tune in the new Karen Black film, “Maria,my Love”, as well as singing “Vaya Con Dios”on the new Les Paul Tribute album we did along with Keith Richards, Jose Feliciano, Steve Miller, Lou Pallo, Slash and Billy Gibbons! Really looking forward to that masterpiece when it finally comes out!

It felt particularly good last night as an “established” artist, whose fans really came out in full force to support my new album. It felt so good to know that as long as I keep on coming out with new and creative projects, there will always be folks there willing to listen!

By far though, the most emotional thing of the evening was a surprise presentation of a special guitar made in tribute to my late daughter, Gillian. It is called “Pennies from Heaven” and it is the guitar that she and I have always talked about wanting to make; a guitar totally covered with pennies! (That was to match her gorgeous copper-colored hair!) I will be doing a special blog about that guitar at a later date.

Till then, this was just an installment to tell you that the release of my new album went super well last night, and that you will hopefully be hearing a lot more from it and about it very soon!! All the best from your guitar-playing buddy!


Posted: 5/23/2012 9:51:45 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Different Ways Guitarists Learn

Now that I am in the throes of working in another “new” guitarist to play alongside me in my band, I can’t help but take note of his unique way of learning, which in turn makes me think also of how others learn. Everyone certainly has their own patterns of learning songs, licks, ideas and arrangements, and there’s no question that each way of learning is literally as unique as the individual themself!

Even though someone such as myself has a very intuitive way of approaching learning and memorizing things, there is still obviously a large amount of natural, mathematical and other kinds of processes that go into the accumulation of knowledge necessary for musical learning. We all have our own approach, and it’s something that not only is established at a very young age, but it pertains to how we learn other things too, which are not necessarily musical. The musical/artistic mind has its own way of acquiring knowledge, and I am convinced that we who have this kind of “makeup” are definitely more apt to learn in an “ear-induced” way, and we can absorb things in an “associative” way, and many times need only the sounds themselves to remind us of what is coming next.

I can still recall when listening to music of my early years, how certain songs and sounds played key pivotal roles in making up who I am, and especially how I learned. Some of those tones and notes of yesteryear certainly stay with us, and deep down inside, they are the very things we rely on in a very intuitive and primal way. After all, music is a very primal exercise in being human, and human beings were making music long, long before anyone decided it should be written down in the form of notes. The notes were simply the earliest form of recording!

The guitarist I’m working with currently seems extremely intuitive and certainly is, but what I like is his ability to bang out very exacting “charts” that he can fall back on, should he forget a bit here and there in a song. This is important, since I am literally “throwing” at him at least 30songs that he has to know by Thursday, and he wants to put his best foot forward and really be prepared. This is a sign of a true professional, and he doesn’t want to leave anything to “chance”, because “chance” can mean “wrong!”

I remember during my days of playing with countless singer/songwriters, how I was able to understand their songs in various categories. I would take note of their tendencies, and the minute I’d hear them launch into a new song, and it was in one of those categories, I swear I could almost always predict what all the changes would be! We all have our natural tendencies, and I’m sure, if he’s really listening, which he really is, my new 2nd guitar player has already noticed mine and hopefully, he’ll be able to utilize this technique in helping him learn all my material!


Posted: 5/17/2012 4:06:06 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Bringing the "Live" Quality to the Studio!

It’s the age-old dilemma about how to re-create or capture the magic of your live sound when in the relatively sterile studio environment. In several cases during my recording career I have benefitted from incredible recording “spaces”, where this has been less of a problem for sure. Most recently, recording my “Toolin’Around Woodstock” album with the late, great Levon Helm was a true joy, as we recorded in his famous “barn” studio, also the home of his legendary “Midnight Ramble” concerts. This is a room designed more primarily for live concerts, and when we finally went to record actual tracks there, it proved to be really great in terms of preserving the “live” aspects and nuances of my music.

This studio was also a great one for my guitar and other overdubs, as the bigness of the room really also helped lend a live quality to those tracks. What was good was the engineer was incredibly comfortable with the particular setting we were in, and was very used to getting the best out of this particular room. Then again, there were other overdubs I did for this album later that were handled by my usual engineer, and he was able to get just as big a sound from the right microphones in a tiny little studio in a cabin. It’s hard to ever know if those overdubs would have had the same integrity if I had used the first engineer who was tracking at Levon’s.

It really boils down to the skill of the engineer and his comfort level with the particular room, and of course your own ears! After all, you still have to be the one to make the final decisions, and that can be at times, a very perplexing thing for sure. In my case, I first want to make sure that the performance itself that I have recorded is the actual one I want to live with. If that is the case, then we must “hunt down” the right sounds and the right overall “vibe” that we really need for that particular recording. Many times, a good part of what you’re looking for may already be there in the “grooves”, but you still may need to give the track a little more ”TLC” to make it totally right. The sounds available to us today in this digital age are just incredible, and basically anything can be re-created. Say, for example, the piano you want is an 1860 Steinway played in a church in Spain….well, odds are you can find that one and dial it up! There are an incredible amount of wonderful and natural-sounding echo and reverbs as well, from all kinds of sources! The possibilities are so endless that we must always be careful to simultaneously stay “focused” on what we want, while keeping an open mind to new creative sound ideas. That is truly the greatest benefit of all that is available to us these days for sure, and if you can have your music well-honed enough so that you can come in the studio and maximize all that is available to you, you’ll already be well ahead of the game! Remember to keep it “live” and “fresh” sounding to begin with, and then be sure to maintain that musical and sonic integrity!


Posted: 5/10/2012 4:12:04 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Helping Students Compose!

One of the issues it seems many students, especially fairly advanced ones eventually always bring up is that of composing. More precisely, it’s very often me helping them to compose, thereby teaching composition by default, and of course there are even times where I share the major part of the composition to begin with! This has happened with some very hi-profile people I’ve played with and taught, but never got the credit for the additional composition work I did, but we won’t be mentioning any names here!

Helping a student to compose is a great thing though, and the tools you are hopefully given he or she is something that can really last a lifetime. After all, we are truly digging deep into our most creative selves when we write music, and the ideas can sometimes really flow like a river! That is my problem…sometimes a student will request some info about writing a song, and before you know it, that song just flowed right out of me!  Still, it’s a great learning experience for really both of us, as I love the sheer exercise of simply doing that…writing a song and coming up with fresh ideas all the time!

Many students are extremely creative with whatever tools you may give them, and may only need three chords to get going on immediately writing a tune. Let’s face it, everyone has a song in them, and sometimes it doesn’t really take very much to tap into this wellspring of creativity. I for example now have a little seven year-old girl, who only needed a G and an E minor chord to immediately start two great songs with! She just keeps on strumming, and the words just keep on flowing out of her, dancing over those two cute chords! I can remember not only writing but also performing the first song I ever wrote, and it consisted of the only 4 chords I knew at the time….all I needed was a little music to put in my hands with that guitar, and the inspiration was instantly ignited!

But teaching a student writing and helping them write is a touchy thing. You must maintain a proper balance that enables them to feel that they in fact are really the writer, and that you are merely helping the process along. Egos can be very sensitive, and a song must really feel like it belongs to someone, especially when it can be such a personal thing, and personal areas are being tapped by writing such a piece of music. If you’ve ever collaborated with someone, how many times have there been petty fights over just “who wrote what?!” Even the most mature of us players and writers can get very protective when it comes to our contributions within a song writing mode, and it really helps to have a balanced working relationship!

So in the end, when a teacher writes with a student, it’s always a two-way street, and you must keep things on an even keel so that the student always feels as if they in the end, are the ones making the final decisions. If they want you to really “take charge” do so, but only at your own risk. Keep it positive and fun for everyone!


Posted: 5/8/2012 3:32:03 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Learning from Your Mistakes!



This “learning from your mistakes” is really a Cardinal rule when it comes to being a guitar player, and certainly when it also comes to being in the field of music. Unfortunately, many of us haven’t learned that much from our mistakes, as in many aspects of life, both political and non-political, but it usually is easiest when applied to simply playing the guitar!

I was always learning from my errors, especially as a self-made and self-taught guitar player. That period was mostly during my own private playing hours with myself, because when playing live with people and really “laying it on the line” I also learned how to avoid the mistake-making areas of my guitar and of the music in general, so I could at least avoid some of the danger zones. And boy, it can really be hazardous out here in the world if you don’t know what you’re really doing yet on that fret board! Meanwhile, as you do get better and better, with less mistakes, and what I refer to as “search and destroy missions” on the guitar, the more confident you become, and you simply start to sound better and better. The confidence factor is really huge when it comes to being able to get gigs too. I can remember Artie Garfunkel telling me that “the minute I walked through that door” for his audition, I already had the gig! I guess he had been around long enough to know what he was seeing, and also what to look for in a professional player. Of course, I still could’ve flubbed all the notes and blown the audition, but at least that wasn’t the case, thank goodness!

So working on your playing and learning from your wrong-doings on the guitar will only serve to improve everything in your life, as you move forward into the professional music world. Not only do you need to exude confidence, but your playing has to show it, and show that you can back up what you’re at least claiming to be! Once you’re really established as a player, folks will come to “expect” the confidence to come right along with you, and there’s nothing like having that “swagger” that shows you really know what you’re doing!

But remember that for some, and you may be included, it doesn’t always come that easy, and it will take time to train your ear properly to not send you down the wrong path on the guitar, and that it will become something you can trust to always help you make the right choices, and to always make the best music possible! Good luck with it all!!


Posted: 5/3/2012 2:49:49 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
Displaying 11-20 of 165
 << First  < Previous  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10  Next >  Last >>