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Passing the Music On!

I must admit, that having grown up during the “Beatles boom” and seeing the next generation come up, including my own two daughters, there is less of a “generation gap” between my generation and our children than ever before! This is largely due to the lifestyle of our generation, which has been for the most part, embraced, but even more due to the music! Sure, they have their own music’s of choice, such as Rap, Hip-hop and Heavy Metal, all genres that we find a little hard to swallow, but the magic of the guitar is as big, if not even bigger, than ever.

This is also exemplified in how many very young, almost too young students are brought to me by their parents, all of whom would think it would be just the cutest thing to see their kids as “rock stars!” This is not, of course, where I am coming from, and I was lucky enough to have my dad picture and encourage me as a guitarist, simply due to his passion for Flamenco music! He could see that I was picking things up off the record easily at ten years old, and that the violin just didn’t “do it” for me!

The difference is that he really saw it for me in an artistic way, and far too many people, who only dabbled in music and want their children to do the same, are trying to vicariously live the “rock star” thing through their kids. And believe me, this is even sometimes when the kids could care less about playing the guitar!

Still, we are a generation that expressed itself perhaps most eloquently through our music, and the kids today (who may be you!) are very much grabbing ahold of what we also held so near and dear to our hearts. I mean there are “Dead Head” kids, 8 year-old Heavy Metal “shredders”, 12 year-old Blues phenoms and on and on. What gets passed along in a family is always the strongest, and not only the love of music can be passed on, but also, of course, the taste in music. Some of it, like The Beatles for example, will simply never fall out of favor, simply because of their universal appeal, songs, talent, attitude and general charisma that just simply can’t be denied, and which is so infectious! If I listen to any Beatles’ recording, I am immediately transported back to what that song meant to me back then, and feel what it still means to me now!

So remember that whether you are aware of it or not, you are “passing it on” to your and other kids when it comes to your love of music. Just don’t force them in a damaging way to have to like certain groups or players they may not find appealing just yet, since they also must find their own way, and their own taste. Bottom line…….there really is no “generation gap”, especially when it comes to the guitar! Enjoy!


Posted: 7/6/2011 5:11:01 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Care and Feeding of Your Guitars

Even though I at times become a bit lax in taking care of my own instruments as the seasons vary and change, I feel it’s important to make sure that you get a good head start when it comes to taking good care of your guitars!

Repairs can be very expensive these days, and truly fine luthiers who we can actually trust with our precious instruments are few and far between for sure. So it’s best to try to keep these things from happening as much as possible. First, I must say, that most guitars should always be kept in their cases when not being played. I know that can be a drag, when we love to look at these things as much as we love to play them, and I myself, like to sometimes have as many as 11 or 12 of them out for the looking and the grabbing! I always try to wipe my strings down after playing them a lot, to keep the grime from building up on them, but I also use alcohol on a paper towel to really clean them off. You’d be amazed at how long your strings can last by sticking to this cleaning method.

Another thing I’ve taken to in a very big way lately is trying to preserve and keep my necks from warping, ad my tops from lifting by keeping the guitars always tuned down. Most of my instruments are kept in Eb, and often even down to D. If I need them to be up to normal pitch, I will tune up for that, but when I’m done, I always slacken the strings. This is also a very good habit for you to get into, even on solid body guitars, since it’s great to take a bit of tension off the neck.

Humidity control is a big issue, and with me living in a high-humidity area, and it being the cold Northeast, we also have to deal with indoor heating that can truly dry out and crack the guitars. Unfortunately, a guitar seems to sound best “just before it cracks”, since dry wood breathes and has a much more “open” sound than wood that is saturated with moisture. Still, it’s a good idea to keep a humidifier of some kind in the case, especially provided the case is tight enough to hold the moisture in.

If you wish to humidify a room where you have the guitars stored or on stands, make sure the room is a space small enough in which a humidifier can make a difference. Huge, open and high-ceiling rooms end up dissipating the moisture too much for it to make any real difference for the guitars, so you may as well give up on any big room…too dry, especially if it’s heated.

Some of these instances of cracking, etc., can be rather cataclysmic, so you must be very careful to always note just what environment you are introducing a guitar into. The most heartbreaking one for me was when a man who was actually the original owner of an acoustic guitar from 1908 gave me this guitar, along with another which was from 1888! The moment I introduced this flawless ’08 beauty into my dry, overly-heated living room, I heard a loud “crack” from across the room! Sure enough, the top, which had survived since 1908 without a problem, got a huge crack in it while the guitar had only been in my possession for about an hour!

So, that experience taught me a lot, and I hope this kind of trauma never befalls you! Remember, these instruments are only in our care for a short time, and we give them life by playing them and caring for them. Keep this in mind as you preserve them for future generations!


Posted: 6/29/2011 12:01:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Student Familiarity!

I always like to say that when I teach privately, I really like to gear what I teach directly to that particular student. This is true for the most part, and of course, there are many foundational things a pupil must know to really set the record straight. This cannot, however, be introduced to every person at the same point in their development, because everyone learns differently. I find that all students have their own particular pace at which they learn, and of course, certain things appeal to some folks, while other things appeal to others.

Getting “familiar” with just what a student needs and what makes him or her “tick” is really key, and that takes good “people skills” in general to make it happen right. Many of my private students have established a long-term relationship with me, and the communication that exists between us is extremely sensitive and has been “fine-tuned” to excellent detail.

If you are teaching, or still taking private lessons, it’s very important for you to be aware of this process, and be sure that you understand the various “ups and downs” that can be experienced. I know my students are always sure to point out to me when I am “high energy” in a good way, and even though they rarely state it, I can tell when they can see that I am at a low ebb, or not doing so well in general. It’s certainly hard when one has given so many thousands of hours of lessons as I have, to always stay in top form, especially when it can be hard to “tune out” some of life’s extraneous pressures and happenings! Still, it’s important to develop that “rhythm” between student and teacher, so one can truly “read” the situation to the best of his or her ability.

After many years, some of my students really feel so at home, that I feel awful even asking for money from them! Student/teacher relationships can really evolve into other things as well, such as when I used to privately teach Paul Simon guitar for an hour, but it would turn into a 2 to 3 hour song-writing extravaganza! This was certainly illuminating for me as well as Paul, and turned out to be such a rewarding and “one of a kind” experience! All teachers should have such a rewarding experience with their students as I have had, because it certainly results in a constantly ongoing learning experience for all! I mean, it truly was teaching that enabled me to learn as much as I did, so I could pass it on. Being self-taught, it was almost a necessity that I teach others, so I could always be delving more and more into the “really good stuff”, so my students can always feel like they’re getting the “real thing”, which they certainly are!

So get closer and closer with your student or your teacher, and see just how much more it will make things flourish! You’ll never know; like me, you may be teaching some of them for as much as twelve years, if not more! Good luck!


Posted: 6/24/2011 12:01:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Fine-Tuning Your "Tastes" in Guitar Music

It’s a very important turning point in one’s development when they decide what really turns them on or not when it comes to the kind of guitar music you want to listen to. I had become very opinionated at a very young age, and this of course went hand in hand with the fact that I was absorbing so much and playing at such a high level for a young person. In those days, I had started off on Classical guitar, which gave me an enormous respect for the instrument in general, especially with my little ten year-old fingers doing all that stretching. I quickly fell for The Beatles when they came out, and had to rush out and get an electric guitar the very next day!

This basically meant I was to go on a path that so many other players of that era followed….where we loved the pop music of the time, and quickly got into the roots of it, just the way these bands we loved had done. It was so amazing to think that it took British bands like the Beatles and The Stones, and many more, to show the Americans what we had been missing for as little as five years! It seemed as if the “roots” of Rock n’ Roll had vanished, and the Chuck Berrys and even the Elvis’s had left our consciousness. But what the phenomenon of The Beatles and others caused was that we all now wanted to play, and have bands of our own, and be cool “like that!” This caused me to start looking into the root of what caused these players to sound the way they sounded, and before I knew it, I was listening to Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Son House, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams and on and on.

But what was also happening was me learning what impressed my ear and what didn’t. I was having a simultaneous love affair with Country as well as Blues guitar, and loved the sound of a pedal steel as much as Delta Blues slide! In my opinion, all of these early forms of great American “roots” music are not really all that different from one another, and all you have to do is listen to the great “singing brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers to know just how fine that Country/Blues division line is!

Many youngsters these days are attracted to the players who can shred the fastest, and who have the most showmanship in their acts, which I guess has always been a factor, but eventually the guitar taste buds must start to branch out and become more refined. It’s kind of like wanted your first car to be a Corvette, and to immediately go from 0-60 in 3 seconds! Eventually, you have to slow it down, and start to appreciate more of the subtleties in guitar playing, and the players who bring out the many interesting and emotive nuances of this instrument we love so much!

So as you’re listening to Randy Rhoads, a great player, also take the time to see the subtleties of a B.B. King, for example. Or while Black Sabbath may turn you on, take a listen to Son House, and hear that same kind of power emitting from one man and his guitar! Fine tune your listening skills, and you’ll inevitably be fine-tuning your playing too!


Posted: 6/10/2011 12:01:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Listen Carefully When You Jam!

There are many times we find ourselves in jamming situations, often simply with another guitar player, and these can be very rewarding, yet sometimes frustrating times as well. The bottom line about any musical situation such as this is that you want to take away as much that is positive from it!

Far too many players these days are very limited in the rhythm guitar department, so much so that I’d have to say it’s become a largely “lost art!” There seems to be no shortage of folks who are happy to play a million notes a minute, but when it comes time for them to back you up, all bets are off! You may have experienced this as a lead player, begging for adequate backup, or you may even be “that” person, who can only shred, but not know a “shred” of rhythm!

Regardless, this can all change, and when you are jamming with someone, it’s so important to be able to really “tune in” to what that other player is doing. You should be able to follow his or her musical thought process on the guitar thoroughly, and be able to pick up on subtle melodic, as well as rhythmic shifts and changes. I know that when I am “backing up” somebody, I find myself throwing in little harmonies, rhythm changes and other things that are prompted solely by the other player’s actions. This is an incredible learning tool, and that ability to really “tune in” to what another player is doing is what really separates the good players from the great players, in my opinion. Maybe that’s why I so like to discuss my old “sideman” days….the times when for me, it was all about “listening” and being creative with it too. The head-cutting jams I used to have with other players in my College for example, were literally mind-blowing, and used to attract crowds of hundreds of student onlookers who seemed to sense they were watching something “important” happening before their eyes.

What was happening was the development of a player, (myself), who was truly developing the fin art of listening and “playing off of” another player at the same time. Words cannot express the importance of this kind of jamming, and the necessity of learning to “listen carefully” to what the other player is doing! In the end, it will make you a better player, sideman, lead as well as rhythm player, and even a better composer. Because after all, when we are coming up out ideas as players, right on the spot, we are unquestionably composing!


Posted: 6/3/2011 12:01:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Start to "Fill In" the Gaps in Your Playing!

By this time, I’m sure you’re developing as a player, which also means you’re experiencing certain “low points” or even “gaps” within your playing. Don’t let this get you too down, because not only do we all experience this, but it’s really just another part of your natural development as a guitar player.

Filling in the “gaps” of your playing as a guitarist is really another way of saying you should start opening your ears to more styles, techniques and musical genres. I know that my wonderfully “hybrid-ed” style of Blues, Country, Rock, Jazz and more is all the result of falling in love with many styles of music all at once, and letting it all “assimilate” over time. For example, when I first fell in love with Blues, I was already playing classical, which automatically lent my finger style to it, and then as I fell in love with Country, my string bending took on a whole new meaning. Yet, this was all done in a natural, albeit pretty rapid-fire way, due to the fact that I was learning as I was pursuing my profession as a performing and recording guitarist.

You may feel as if you’re stuck in a “rut”, but digging out of that rut may be as simple as finding a new little twist or turn at a certain juncture on the fret board that can open up a whole new world to you! It can be as simple as taking a position that is well-known to you, being played by the third finger perhaps, and suddenly playing that same note with the first finger instead! Believe it or not, that alone, which is also often done mistakenly, could turn the entire passage or position into a whole new opening of possibilities for you!

I am firmly convinced that many times the mistakes we make can, if we listen and are “tuned in”, turn into new major learning experiences. I can totally attest to this, since I am totally self-taught, and “trial and error” was something I was always forced to learn through!

Also, another thing I did a lot in my learning process was to substitute certain techniques and styles for others! This, as I’m sure you’ve seen is also something I advocate through my teaching. Let “slides” and “hammer-ons” become “bends”, “pull-offs” become bend “releases” and on and on……think double-stops instead of always single-note playing and so much more! All this will open up new doors for you, and most of all, don’t shut yourself off from any style just because you don’t love the music! Even Heavy Metal players, wish they could play hot and fast clean Country guitar!! Best of luck!


Posted: 5/31/2011 11:16:45 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Unlocking the Mysteries of the Fretboard!

There’s no doubt that as we continue to develop as real players, there are many “mysteries” of the fretboard that should keep on Un-raveling for us. In the beginning, we look at a riff for example, and by putting 2 and 2 together, we realize that it can be repeated all over the neck, in identical fashion, just in new key positions. After a while though, we should be able to see beyond this scope of self-teaching, and be able to see the neck and notes in a more “three-dimensional” way, as opposed to “two dimensional.” This takes time, and not all of us have the mathematical and logical kinds of minds that can easily grasp all of these things, especially when it’s how they relate to the actual sound they make that is the real learning experience!

I’ve also had way too many pupils come to me who have been given a textbook’s worth of knowledge about scales, modes and all other kinds of mind-numbing theatrics, all to no avail, and who are still just as confused as ever! (If not more so!) This is because rather than take a direct one-on-one approach and give the student what they really need, their previous teacher was just “going through the motions” by giving them a ton of info to absorb, with no real music or purpose behind it! This can be a more serious problem than you think, because if it’s done at an age when the student is extremely motivated to learn and is very impressionable, a lot of this “useless” information could leave them searching like “babes in the woods!”

When I teach privately, and as you can probably also notice from my Gibson.com lessons, I have a much more “hands on” approach that insists on whatever I’m showing you, make musical sense, and that it becomes instantly useful and enjoyable to the student. This is how I taught myself, and of course I had the double good fortune of being able to really trust my ear, and to, at the same time be a young professional who was really “out there” in the world of music, putting it all to use right on the spot!

When you’re onstage, in front of an audience, it’s “do or die”, and whatever you play will either communicate with those people out there, or it will leave them flat and un-interested. Again, as I was going through this period, I was certainly still unlocking the “mysteries” of the guitar, but I was being very careful to not try too much too soon, but also to know when the time was right to expand and experiment beyond what I did already know!

So much is “trial and error” as you keep developing that ear along with your guitar skills, and believe me, when those “errors” occur, it’s a great way of learning what not to do in the future!

So, feel totally free to experiment and improvise, but do it in an intelligent and thoughtful way; always keep your music at the forefront, and always play what feels and sounds like music! Don’t just settle for scales and modes, it’s a frustrating and “backdoor” way for many people to learn, and it’s certainly no “shortcut” for those of us who really want to truly know the fretboard!


Posted: 5/25/2011 5:20:08 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Making the Switch from Acoustic to Electric!

The move one must often make from acoustic to electric playing can be a real eye AND ear opener! First, you really must understand that after being relatively comfortable on the acoustic guitar, it’s going to take you awhile to get accustomed to the many changes and adaptations this can mean! I had a very unusual path in my guitar playing, where I started with Classical guitar, then switched to electric, (never totally leaving the Classical behind!), and then adding steel-string acoustic to my arsenal in 1975.

What this did for me, and I think also as a result of the kind of music I was playing, was to almost force me to adapt to and create a new kind of acoustic style that was a true merger of my electric as well as acoustic techniques. I felt no reason why the steel-string acoustic should hold me back from the wonderful and expressive things I did on the electric guitar, such as string bending and vibrato. Most folks automatically think they can’t bend on an acoustic…of course you can, you just can’t bend as much! Yes, the high E and B strings can do an admirable job of half and whole-step bends, as well as the low E and A, but the D and G strings, even in light gauge format, can really only manage half-step bends, which are just fine with me! And in general, you’ll find half-step bends much more user friendly on an acoustic, and I do not recommend doing any serious acoustic bending unless you have light gauge strings at the most!

Also remember, if going from acoustic to electric, now you are amplified, and even the simple act of strumming must change if it’s to fit into the context of being so much louder. I always tell students that they should understand that the acoustic must have the sound really wrenched and projected out of it with literally hard labor, while an electric must be controlled. And it takes a lot to learn to create that control for sure…when players like Jimi Hendrix are bashing and thrashing, and Pete Townshend is doing windmills, those guys have total control of their instruments! Only when using proper blocking and dampening skills, can they do such a good job of isolating strings at such a high volume. That’s why I have always found it kind of comical when some of the many acoustic Folk artists I’ve worked with take an electric and start strumming like it was some big, fat acoustic guitar, only to be shocked by how “out of control” and out of their element they felt and sounded!

Of course “control” is critical for all guitar playing, bot acoustic and electric, but the subtleties are quite variable, and each instrument has its own set of characteristics to bring to the table.

So there’s no doubt that when you do make the switch, you’ll find that the new instrument will bring forth new challenges, and that there is no doubt that your own stylistic “stamp” will be created as a result of the blend. There’s no doubt about it, and I sure hope you enjoy exploring the possibilities!


Posted: 5/20/2011 12:01:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Be Your Own Worst Critic!

I know it may sound a bit harsh, but you can really serve yourself well by being your own worst critic! By this I mean that you should be highly critical of your own playing, and in essence, never be truly satisfied with what it is you’re doing. This applies in my opinion, especially to the creative side of things. After all, this is a creative process we are going through as guitarists, and we must always be learning and growing. If we stop that, we might as well give up! The worst thing is for anyone to get themselves into a little “box” where they feel so secure with the small amount they actually do know, that they are literally “afraid” to step out over the boundaries!

Breaking the very rules we think are there to make music is what music is all about. Science is always being re-defined, and music is certainly a very “scientific” endeavor. It involves sound, time and space, and many other “intangibles” such as emotion and your own personal level of expression. These are things that cannot be pre-prescribed, nor understood by even a teacher….it’s really in the end, totally up to you!

I know that when I am onstage, for example, if I start to fall into a musical “rut”, or play something that to me, is way too predictable, I feel as if I’ve let myself down! Sure, there are songs with riffs we have to include and “get to”, but it’s learning to play “outside” of those comfortable realms that we should really always be striving for! The audience is actually tuning in to your thought process as you play, and they are hearing your pure expression. If you break that train of thought, or lose your focus, so will the audience, and odds are, they’ll start to talk or ignore you. This is of course, a rather extreme occurrence I am referring to, but it does happen, and even though most people listening to you won’t nearly have your musical knowledge, you will still be “losing” them on a very gut level, where they’re not sure what’s wrong, but they’ll at least know they don’t like it!

That being said, it’s critical for you as a growing musician to always remember that it’s you who must first be pleased with your own playing, then all else will grow and flourish from there! I have always been my own worst critic, but at the same time, I realize how important it is to take note of the strides I have made, when I make them. The recognition of the good progress is extremely important for you to hone, and it’s those little steps ad giant leaps that will keep you coming back, and hungering for more!

So stay hungry, stay creative, and most of all, stay critical of your playing; in the long run, it’ll always help you to improve!


Posted: 5/18/2011 12:01:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Working Several Projects at Once!

Well, this is basically what I am doing these days, and it takes a lot to “juggle” so much at one time! I have been working on a terrific new personal album, as well as working on my daughter Lexie Roth’s second solo album. I have been doing sessions on the new Lou Pallo Les Paul tribute album, along with major artists such as Steve Miller, Jose Feliciano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Billy Gibbons and Keith Richards! It’s a very exciting project I am honored to be a part of, and my daughter even got to sing “Via Con Dios” on the album as well! My contribution is a lightning fast version of “Mr. Sandman”! On top of this, I’ve been recording solo acoustic pieces for a Burt Bacharach Tribute album, as well as a Lieber and Stoller Tribute!

There’s certainly nothing like being busy as a musician, and especially in the very creative realm I’ve been occupying these days. There’s no question that making a living as a guitar player can be a daunting task, and you certainly may have to work at what will feel like several jobs, while putting it all under the one heading of being a “guitar player!” This means you can be teaching, touring, recording, writing, songwriting and Lord knows what else! Regardless of how much you may have to do, as long as it fits under the basic heading of “guitar”, you can at least feel like you’re progressing in your career. Many folks in other artistic fields such as acting, etc., may have to do more of your typical “other” kinds of jobs, such as waiting tables or whatever, while as guitarists, we actually have many options of what we can do to support ourselves and our families.

I can vividly recall just what it was like when I decided that with the phone not ringing for any work on the road or the studio, and my money down to basically nothing, it was time to start that taped instruction business that ended up being called “Hot Licks”! This enabled me to teach literally millions of people worldwide, and to keep on coming out with new product for the voracious appetite musicians have for more knowledge! Sure enough, I was able to do something that was an entirely new thing within the music industry, while turning people onto my playing and my music. I was also able to keep writing books, doing Guitar Player Magazine columns, occasional tours such as Simon and Garfunkel, the “Crossroads” film and so much more. Most importantly, I was able to continue in music ad guitar, while being able to be there for my two daughters, and to watch them grow up.

So remember that as you pursue the inevitable “juggling act” one must do to remain in music, you have to weigh everything, and how each move you make affects your overall career “profile.” Thanks to the internet, there are many more possibilities for spreading the word about your music much more quickly than in the old days, so take advantage of that for sure! As long as it all adds up to a better, fuller reputation as a player, you’ll be doing the right thing for sure!


Posted: 5/13/2011 12:01:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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