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Balancing "Practice" and Real Life!

It’s of course, more critical now than ever that you find as much time as possible to play and practice, since you are in the developing period of your life as a musician. But as many of us know these days, there are added pressures on us all, economically and time-wise, that make it very hard to really steal away for enough of that precious playing time we really need! Many of us have to not only work a job, but maybe a few jobs to make ends meet. One of those jobs may be actually be music itself, but for most of you, that particular job may more be a “labor of love” right now than anything else! This, of course, is fine, and is as it should be, because you better love it, or else it’ll never really mean enough to you to garner the kind of dedication it deserves.

Still, all in all, we must find the time, and make it an exercise in relaxation and pleasure to be able to play whenever we can. I try to never miss a day of guitar playing, even if it means dropping by a local music store to have a look at something. I also love how teaching privately also creates a set amount of time where I am playing rather intensively, always keeping my “chops” up! I have done a lot of traveling of course, and love taking “travel” guitars with me, wherever I go. I once took the train across the country, and what a pleasure it was to have a small guitar I could keep playing and writing with in my little room I had on that 3-day train ride!

Be sure to set aside that precious playing time for yourself whenever and wherever you can….it can mean playing for others, or doing some very introverted and private, personal playing that keeps your ideas flowing. I try to play something new every time I pick up the guitar, but that’s just my natural tendency, due to my early days of always teaching myself. I always pledged that I would try to discover something new on the guitar every time I held it, and that has always pretty much stayed true.

I just know that I have heard of too many young, promising players who gave up the guitar because life got in the way. Guitar must also become an important part of life, and you should never let anything become so dominant over it, that it will rob you of it altogether! I can’t imagine that ever happening. After all, playing an instrument is such a gift, we must never ignore it completely. It means the guitar is our friend when we’re lonely, and many times, as in my case, it literally is our other, or “inner” voice.

So make sure to find that time to play, practice, create, express and to just “be” with your best friend; your guitar!


Posted: 10/13/2010 4:35:49 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Building Your Confidences as a Player

We all know, or at least should know, that confidence plays such a huge role in whether or not we ever become the real players we are to become. The early days of my extreme confidence really helped me move forward, and certainly played a role in helping push me onward to become a far better player. There are many pitfalls and roadblocks that can hold you back along the way, but it is important to recognize this and to be able to move on past any of the negativity.

The truth is, that if you are really any good at all, you are already going to stand out from the crowd. This will become apparent to you as you play open jams, open mic nights and as you enter any fairly “competitive” situation where other players are involved. What will really become obvious to you is that while there may be an incredibly large amount of players these days, the ones who are truly “good” or even “great” are few and far between. This has just always been the case, and if you have what it takes, plus the confidence to go with it, you are already many steps far ahead of so many others!

Once you actually start to get real positive reactions to what you are doing, you’ll be amazed at what an affect it can have on you and your playing. Of course you’ll hit the occasional “slump”, but overall, any positives you receive will really prove to go a long way, and will make for some great and poignant memories from your “formative” years.

I know I’ll never forget the early words of encouragement I got in the beginning, and how they affected me. Not only that, but the sheer diversity of where these positives can come from is mind-boggling. I can recall them from teachers, my parents, fellow performers, producers, other guitarists and especially audiences! This always pushed me onward, and as I always like to say, I really feel like I literally learned in front of audiences all over the world!

I would certainly say that for you, it is important to cultivate as much positivity as you can from your playing. And by this, I mean real positivity, not just empty slaps on the back that you really know aren’t encouraging you at all, even though they are meant to! Build up that confidence, and you’ll feel comfortable in nearly all situations. Sure, there will be some rough roads ahead, but after all, this is the music business, isn’t it? In the long run, it’ll all pay off, and I want all of this experience to make you the best guitar player you can possibly be!


Posted: 10/6/2010 7:56:32 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Putting Together Your Own Recording

Sooner or later, when you are starting out, you’re surely going to want to hear your work recorded. This is true of everyone, whether they are playing solo or with a band, and of course, these days, more people are working on the art of recording themselves than ever before. With the advent of digital technology, and the ability to really scale down a lot of the equipment that is used, the idea of a home studio has become a reality for many more folks than ever possible before.

I know that for my own personal musical endeavors, I have always, and still do prefer to “go to” a place of work, where I can feel like my focus and energy level is definitely up a notch, as opposed to the old “fall out of bed and record” mentality of the home studio. The problem with that kind of home studio deal is that it tends to make me complacent, and always makes me “put off” doing what I would have to do if I was at a studio where “time was money, and money was time!” There’s also the simple factor that I believe most of us would rather have the engineering part of it in the hands of a true professional, who really knows what they’re doing! I always feel much more reassured when I know I’m dealing with a person whose recording techniques are just as well-honed as my playing techniques. This helps me worry about one thing, and one thing only…the music!

Of course, you must be diligent, and learn from everything that is taking place…placement of mics, recording tips, sound quality etc., and certainly don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel that things are not sounding the way you want them to. It’s very easy early on in the game of recording to assume that the engineer and anyone else involved behind the scenes knows exactly what they are doing, but a real pro would want as much input from you as possible, thereby enabling he or she to get a much clearer picture of what and who they are dealing with.

This is so important, because after all, if everyone is really doing their respective jobs well, the decisions then should all boil down to artistic ones, where it really becomes a matter of taste and your own creativity that governs the final outcome. Since you are really the boss, it’s so important also to feel that you are the one giving the final yeas or nays when it comes to the recording, because after all, it’s your music. Make sure whatever goes down on the recording is really how you want it to be! More on this important topic in future installments. Till then, have fun!


Posted: 10/1/2010 7:34:14 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Appreciate the "Legends" that came before You!

It is so critical that you, as a guitarist who is starting out, really and truly appreciate those who came before you, and who helped forge the way for what the guitar has become today! There are many great names that have been practically forgotten, and who are certainly not in the vocabulary of many of the younger players, who they are names that should be! For example, perhaps the most obvious is the man himself, Les Paul! Too many folks just think that his name is just the name of a guitar, and forget that he was a major hit record maker, and one of the most prolific and adventurous inventors in American history! Not only is he credited with the birth of the solid body guitar, but he also perhaps even more impressively, created multi-track recording!

Even when I was 15 years old, and bought my ’52 Les Paul guitar, I had no idea who Les Paul was….but sure enough, we became friends, and I got to play with him many times! The players who came before you always had player that they emulated who also came before them! It’s like a chronology that can be drawn between us all, that is the artistic connection between us all! If I had not listened to Clarence White for example, using the b-bender he invented (which I didn’t know!), I wouldn’t have invented the string-bending licks I am so known for these days. Or if I had not listened to Elmore James on slide, even Little Walter on harmonica, I wouldn’t have played slide guitar the way I do. It goes on and on…..Merle Travis influenced Chet Atkins, Son House influenced Robert Johnson, who in turn influenced Muddy Waters, and on and on.

The most important thing is to always go to “the source” as close as you can. Being a student of the guitar, you can only be helped by understanding where what you are trying to play came from, and the real history behind it. When I fell in love with Mike Bloomfield’s playing, I quickly understood that I needed to get into B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush if I really wanted to know where his style evolved from, and then sure enough, before I knew it, I was looking into Robert Johnson and Son House!

So seek out guitar history wherever it may come from, and you’re bound to know more and more about what it is you’re playing. Hey, it’ll even make you a better player without you even realizing it! Good luck!


Posted: 9/29/2010 9:06:30 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Joys of also Teaching Privately!

As you all know, I really enjoy bringing my lessons to you all the time on Gibson.com, but the private teaching I often do really lends itself to help me always come up with new ideas for you as well. I have always found that just as there are playing “chops”, there are also teaching “chops”! This was very clear to me way back when I started my Hot Licks series of lessons in 1979. I would come from doing a bunch of really stimulating lessons, and immediately put my ideas and thought on tape, while my teaching “chops” were still churning away!

It’s great because I also love to meet new and interesting students that always make me delve into things a little more deeply than normal, and to get in touch with what really matters. Not only that, but it makes for an improvement in my own playing, as it never fails to stimulate new ideas in me. Many times, I’ll even come up with a whole new song idea just from a particular lesson where I happen upon some wonderful new riff or idea. The private lessons also make for new ideas when it comes to having to take unique approaches towards a new student. After all, we all learn and play in our own individual ways, and coming at it from a new angle is a refreshing way to look at what you may have already taught in another way previously!

And let’s not forget that some players walk through that door who are so good, they can actually shed light on some new ideas I may’ve not thought of before…these are great moments when the teaching itself, and the student, actually help me learn something new! This used to happen all the time when I was documenting all those great players for my company, Hot Licks Video, and I would always pick up and learn new things from somebody I was recording. I remember being particularly moved by the fingerstyle of Tuck Andress, or Scotty Anderson’s lightning approach to thumbpick and finger technique, or Eric Johnson’s phrasing! All of these things were not only stimulating, they were inspiring!

So all in all, teaching is really about the give and take between you and your student, and you just never know where the next inspiration is going to come from. Always be ready for it though, because it may just be around the corner of the next lesson!

Posted: 9/24/2010 6:01:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Making the Most Out of What Equipment You Have

There is a tendency these days to always put such a heavy emphasis on equipment, and having lots of it! Sure, it’s nice to have this stuff, but do we really ever get to see the true potential of what can really be done with it? I have always found that “less is more” when it comes to using stuff, even in the case of guitars, and the fact that you are working with less, will always make you a more versatile player.



There’s no doubt that for example, you’d have to cover a much wider tonal range on your own if you simply had a guitar plugged into an amp, without all the “stomp boxes” and outboard equipment so many of us favor these days. I know that I always resorted to getting as much out of the pure guitar as possible, such as volume control tricks, tone control “wah-wahs”, and of course, just good old tube amp distortion instead of distortion pedals. Don’t get me wrong, all this stuff has its place, and can be put to definite creative use successfully, I just feel that it’s important to really know when is the best time for you to move on, or “up” to more equipment. Too much too soon can be crazy. I know of one very spoiled kid I was teaching a couple of years back who was getting a new Marshall stack every week, 6 Les Pauls for one birthday, and who kept changing his “massive” pedal board every week! Talk about someone who didn’t understand about getting what he wanted out of the guitar first! All that mattered to him was how much he owned, and how seemingly “hot-rodded” his setup could be. It was a nightmare to teach him, and he also had no attention span, never listened to me and never smiled.

Obviously, this kid was an extreme example, and there was something wrong with him, but if he had just taken the time to really understand the “hands on” approach I was trying to show him, he would’ve been so much more satisfied. It’s as if kids like that are trying to learn the guitar backwards….form all the “flash” and fast playing and crazy effects back to one day realizing that it’s the simplicity that matters, and that “less is more” may be the truest statement ever made when it comes to the guitar, and music in general. Hope you find your way in this regard, and truly learn to appreciate and get as much as possible out of as little equipment as possible, too!


Posted: 9/17/2010 9:37:59 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Coping with Success at an Early Age

This is really an important topic to discuss here, whether you ever become really successful at a young age or not. This is because all of us will experience highs and lows along the way which will definitely feel like huge successes and/or failures, even though they may not be on such a grand scale.

The truth is that early success at a very young age can be really lethal, and it’s hard for a young person to have the “coping” mechanisms in place so soon to deal with success, really at any level. I know that when I was starting out, once I reached a kind of success level that really started to make a difference I felt like I could conquer the world, literally. This set me up for equally strong “lows” as much as my “highs” were, but the energy and high level of euphoria I had was sustained for quite a long time. I must warn you though from my experience, for when you feel this “high” for such a long time, you have got to know that there will be an eventual slump to follow at some point. I can remember moving to Woodstock in 1971, with a pre-formed band, feeling like the world was my oyster, and that I could do no wrong. This, by the way, is how one should think of oneself at times like these, regardless of eventual outcome or reality! In any event, the first thing that I noticed, and that others were pointing out to me, was that my playing itself had hit an all-time low, or slump. It was as if I had lost the “center” to my guitar playing, and just didn’t have “it” anymore! It Turned out to be very temporary, but I can attribute it to the fact that everything else in my life was so new by moving away from home, and also the feeling in the air in Woodstock that there were many sort of unwritten “rules” that now governed guitar playing in this small town full of well-known musicians.

As I’ve stated in other blogs, I hit the music business’ ground running, and I was a very unbridled and “free” player at that time, who had not yet experienced being a “sideman” or “back-up” player. This all changed when I was thrown into an environment of not only more experienced players than me, but folks who were just a lot older, too! It all made for a humbling experience, but they largely only wanted me to be myself still, just more within the confines of their music, which was totally to be expected.

I did during that time, get to know a lot of musicians who had a lot of success at a very young age, and who had become very used to being pampered by the record labels, mangers and the rest. These people definitely had real problems later on when it came to coping with life in the “real” music business, which as we all know, is mostly about losing, not winning!

In any event, this is the first in a series of pieces I will be doing on this very important subject, so please be sure to stay tuned for more! Good luck in all your successes, no matter what age you’re at!


Posted: 9/15/2010 3:50:48 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Coming up with New Ideas



I really think it’s very important to always stay “tuned in” to yourself when you are either deliberately or not so deliberately looking for new ideas on the guitar. This can be trickier than you think, because I feel that until you’ve reached a certain level of awareness and proficiency, you may not even realize that some little gem may be flowing out of your fingers! I can recall when I was working with John Prine, how he’d always say to me, “Arlen, can you teach me a new chord so I can write a new song?” That used to blow me away, because it was such an indication of how he really knew exactly where his talent was at, and how he also knew very clearly, his limitations. John is someone who derived most of his inspiration from words, and the music he put to them was really quite secondary.

In my case however, the music usually can exist for literally years before I actually put words to it, if ever! Most of you will find that your first inspiration will also come from the notes you play, and when you pick that guitar up each time I believe that it is a “wide open” moment for discovery and inspiration. If I were you, I’d always be sure to have something nearby that can record and take down any or all aspects of a new idea you have come across, no matter how far-fetched you may think it is at the time. I have far too often dismissed licks or song ideas I came across because I didn’t realize the kind of impact they could later have! It’s something that I have many times regretted, and I hope you can heed my words and truly listen to your own “muse” when it hits you.

So, always be on the lookout for new ideas….you never know where they will come from, or when, and sometimes, a simple lick will be the beginning of something truly great. Even recently, these song ideas have come to me as the result of teaching a lesson to a student who might really make me “reach deep” for new ideas….before I know it, I’m asking them to make sure they taped what I played, because it will undoubtedly become a song one day! Hope you find that kind of inspiration one day for yourself!


Posted: 9/8/2010 8:53:19 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Having Fun Gigging with Your Band!

The act of having a band is a real treat, and is truly meant to be more than anything else, enjoyable! I can remember the early bands I had being an absolute joy, even though I was rarely satisfied, even at a very young age, with many of the other members. Still, it was a great time of growth both musically and personally, and I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. It’s important in the early days of your gigging with your band that you keep it as “democratic” as possible. Sure, all bands do need to have a true leader, but everybody’s musical and other kinds of ideas are important to be heard and considered. After all, you’ll learn more from other’s ideas, and a band should really be a collective endeavor, or else you might as well have gone solo!

When you finally do start to do gigs together, it’s very important that you feel rehearsed enough, but not over-rehearsed. This is because you should want to develop your improvisational skills, and learn to “think on your feet” right from the start. The biggest mistake is to feel you have to be perfectly rehearsed, and to feel let down if it ends up that you’re not. After all, when playing a gig, the adrenaline will always play a factor, and folks may play too fast, or speed up, make mistakes, or just generally be too distracted. All of this plays into a young band’s psyche, ad you should never come down too hard, or glare at someone in the band if he/she makes a mistake. To do the “glaring” thing is very unprofessional, and it would only hurt the feelings of your friend. Much better to not pay attention to the mistake, and talk it over later. I’ve seen far too many musicians do the quick “head turn” where everyone does a double-take so they can glare at the player who made the mistake…very bad!

It’s also really important to help each other in every way, right down to being fair about carrying your equipment. Keep focused on the music, avoid letting it become a popularity contest, and the gigs will become more and more fun as they go on. Also, it’s very important to “read” the audience, and learn how to pace your show. All these things will add up to making you and your band a more professional, and enjoyable experience. Great luck with it all!


Posted: 9/1/2010 3:15:37 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The "Trusted" Band Rocked the House!

Well, as a real follow-up to my last basics blog on “trusting” your band, I am proud to announce that the gig I was so scared of, and so full of anticipation about was a rousing success! It was even beyond a success, as the folks, many of whom have now heard us at this particular function for the 4th time, said we were the best they had ever heard! I really suppose that the “magic” lied in the fact that we did go for the more spontaneous approach, and in fact, played many songs together for the first time…even un-rehearsed! Well, that is certainly what real trust is about in a band of musicians, because we all came through with such flying colors.

I will admit that my own apprehension and uncertainty about the gig made me doubt whether or not we were going to be good at all, and even felt that by the end we had not achieved our goal, but according to the audience, I was totally wrong! By the 10th or 11th song, we were totally rocking the house, and I’d say that 99.5% of the guests were all up dancing like crazy! It’s a great feeling when you get that kind of reaction, and it also felt great to keep “reading” the crowd, and to pace the show correctly, according to the move and the groove of the room. I’d estimate that there were about 150 people there, and the cheering and screaming for us was really “real”, and we loved getting that kind of reaction, for sure!

Perhaps the most lingering “lesson” in it for me was how well the “off the cuff” pacing of the show worked. I loved, as a band leader, being able to successfully do that. It’s many a musician who has tried and tried to come up with the right pace for a show, and it has always been a trying task for me, usually resulting in changing the song order right on the fly, as I am reading the reactions of the audience. This time I completely cast that decision process to the wind, and called out songs as they occurred to me, and many times, even called out tunes we had never done together, but that I felt were right for the moment. Another cool tip to get out of the experience was that while it was a “cocktail” hour, and when the people were standing outside, we were able to play softly, and use that time as a kind of “stealth” rehearsal. So while they were getting drinks and listening to us as “background music”, we were actually going over some tunes that we needed refreshing on that we later cranked up when they became “foreground music!”

So, in the end, you never really know what a gig may have in store for you, but more often than not, you should be able to turn any nerves or apprehension into true positive results! Here’s to many great gigs to come for all of us!


Posted: 8/25/2010 3:32:21 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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