strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Tag: Musicianship

On to bigger and better things

As a sort of follow up to the last post, things are hopefully going to get better from here. We're in the final month of the spring semester and what's a been a particularly challenging ear training course. Mostly this is because a significant portion of the class is focused on sight reading, solfege, and conducting. Ear training as a skill is very valuable to me, and I've already improved quite a bit in this course. That being said, I have no intention to conduct or use solfege with any regularity in the future. For that matter, I don't anticipate sight reading to be particularly necessary in my future as well. 

Not that these aren't valuable skills, but I don't plan or hope to work in a scenario where I would need these with any regularity. I have no aspiration to be a session musician or work in a professional capacity where I have sheet music handed to me that I'm expected to be able to play on the spot. This is where I have a fundamental disconnect with the instructor and the course. He's very focused on those components as part of ear training. I understand how they're being used to reinforce the concept of intervals and getting these baked into your brain so they're second nature. 

What I also know is that this program isn't necessary to acquire these skills. The musicians and songwriters I most admire were rarely trained within any formal program, and many of them know very little theory at all. Again, I don't disregard the skills, I just know that for the music to which I aspire these skills aren't typically involved at all. Artists like Steven Wilson or Tommy Emmanuel have said on numerous occasions that they know very little theory and certainly don't think of it when they write. That isn't to say they don't apply theoretical concepts, it just proves that you don't have to know those specific components to create amazing music. 

Despite this, I have soaked up a bit of these skills along the way, but at least with conducting I'm still basically faking it just so I can pass the class. I know for sure that I've managed to write songs without thinking in these specific terms, although I do apply theoretical concepts to my works. This course has reinforced the value of ear training not only for my instrument but for singing as well. I plan to study more after this class, but I won't be pursuing programs that focus so heavily on those theoretical disciplines. I think I'll gradually soak up more sight reading because it does have some general value in learning new music as well as composition to a certain degree, but I'm not sure I will be forcing myself to get it down to instantaneous sight reading. My approach has been to use reading to learn a piece until it's memorized and usually just on the piano. I can read drum notation as well, but for guitar and bass I think tablature is superior if I really want to learn something quick. 

Learning NEW MATERIAL

A repeating theme I've learned over the years of practicing is that learning new material is one of the most rewarding aspects to musicianship. This is especially true if it's something I'm learning by ear. One of the biggest challenges has been to sound out harmonically complex piano music. I'm guilty of always looking for a sheet music version of something but there are still several tunes or at least versions of tunes I love that have never been offered as sheet music. This is especially true on live arrangements by artists like Rick Wakeman and other improvisers. 

I'm trying to make it a regular part of my practice to incorporate learning new material by ear, at least on piano and guitar. These skills only improve through repetition, and although it's very incremental and almost impossible to discern at times, I do notice a gradual improvement. I suppose this would be ostensibly for the ultimate goal of becoming a better and more rounded musician, but I've also always felt immediate satisfaction for even the smallest bits of a new song I'm learning. Learning a new song for me feels like tapping into the mystical, almost. It's the muggle equivalent of learning a new spell. 

Learning from Mistakes

It's really the most effective way, in my experience. The errors of the past are the things that stick in your memory and typically bring about the most change. This particular episode was my very simple and ostensibly easy Guitar Scales assignment 3 this week. I thought I'd be clever and convert the sheet music over to Sibelius and then import that into Guitar Pro so I could practice along with it before recording myself playing the assignment. 

The problem was that I didn't proofread it, probably because I was in a hurry and it's a pretty simple piece of music that I honestly didn't think Sibelius (via Photoscore) would screw up. Well, I was wrong. Got a B- on the assignment because I played it wrong - the imported version got several note values and positions wrong. I'm not sure what the instructor really thought, as he just commented that I had played the wrong note values. It almost sounded like he thought I had just performed them out of time. Regardless, the grade was fair because I failed to play what was on the sheet. I can just imagine the tone of a professor in a more rigid program a la Julliard or the resident Berklee classes. 

I frankly think he was diplomatic about the whole thing. I'm going to re-record it and submit, although I'm not sure he'll change my grade. I'll explain that it was my error for not proofreading and see how far that gets me. Lesson learned - never assume these technical tools can't make mistakes. Which, I normally don't, but when you're in a hurry it's easy to make stupid errors like this. 

Sniffwhistles and snarkbottoms...

Don't ask, it just seemed appropriate. We're in the latter half of May, so just checking in. Not a lot new to report. I've taken this semester and intend to take next semester off from Berklee. A combination of feeling like I was falling behind on some areas I wanted to explore (in musicianship and writing in general), combined with a feeling that one of the courses I was taking still needed some work (Music Compo & Theory) sparked the decision. I've got enough eligibility remaining in my GI Bill (9 years) that I can afford to slow the pace a bit. I've grown a lot by taking up drums, bass, and vocals but I've made a decision to at least try and dive deeper into guitar and keys, which I consider my most important instruments. I'm trying to work more on fundamentals, theory, and improvisation, especially on the guitar. 

I've also started separating practice and composition, so that I try to focus on each on alternating days. I've also accepted that some days I just don't have the mental and/or physical energy to make any progress. I just give it a pass when those days happen.  I've made some decent progress with this new approach (considering I hadn't really written anything since the compo class). I've got one song that's almost fully written, and several that I've made progress on.  I've been trying to compose structures and rough arrangements when I have time at work, as I can essentially accomplish this on my laptop alone. I'm also slowly learning how to incorporate some of my theoretical knowledge in helping me structure these songs. I tend to get inspiration in a random fashion, sometimes as a melody, sometimes as a rhythm. It doesn't tend to come theoretically intact (although rules are totally made to be broken, they can help), unless it's a really simple tune in C. I'm trying to hone those skills so I can naturally fit something in a major or minor key without having to look it up. I'll learn more about this is future compo classes, but thus far we were writing to film cues and not necessarily in the way I would write a song for myself. 

I also started recording my cover of "Life On Mars" by David Bowie. I've been working on the piano part for years now. Rick Wakeman's playing is often deceptively simple sounding but ends up being a technical challenge when you try to reproduce it close to his version. It reminds me of Tommy Emmanuel's guitar parts in a sense. They both play songs & parts that are ostensibly fairly easy sounding as a listener, but they both have such manual dexterity and facility on their respective instruments so that "easy" sounding chords and fingerings are anything but. The biggest challenge for me was that I had been playing "Life On Mars" as just a solo piano piece without any reference point, and this meant I was playing it too fast for vocals to keep up. I had to start playing it with the song so that I would pause long enough for the vocals to fit. 

And when I say cover, I'm making a video of myself covering all the parts. The most important lesson I've learned in recording a video, is that you really need to ensure you can play the part without significant (noticeable) mistakes, because it's a huge pain in the ass to try and fix mistakes after the fact. This is true for audio, but exponentially worse with video. I performed a couple takes and got one that I was okay with, if not over the moon. I think I'll probably re-record the piano once I've recorded all the other parts. My biggest complaint with my performance is that I was following/reacting to the recording and this makes it sound a bit robotic and flat. "Life On Mars" is a good object lesson in recording a full band cover version because it has a variety of tempos and the various parts don't all come in at once. 

The drum track is pretty simple, especially for any capable recording or touring drummer. That being said, my recently intermittent practice schedule combined with my intermittent within intermittent practicing of the drum part meant my first attempt was pretty awful. It was mainly the kick drum parts, as there is this repeating lead in beat that's on the and of 4 (I think) and it's offset from an open hi-hat to the extent that I feel like I have to rock back and forth. I think I need to get a drum stool that raises higher because there are times when I think my knee angle is a bit too acute (I think it's typically around 100 degrees flexion, and 80-90 would probably be a bit more mechanically advantageous). I have started practicing drums daily since then with an emphasis on that song and it's improved quite a bit. I feel like I might give it another go this weekend. After all that, I think the bass, guitar, and maybe the vocals won't be too difficult. There are a couple of high parts "Sailors, fighting in the dance hall" for one, that I'll probably need to make several passes at. My normal approach would be to record multiple passes of each line, but I'm not sure how well that will work with recording a video. I'm more likely to try singing it straight through several times and picking the best single take.  I'll likely gain some more knowledge on the recording of vocals since this will be one of my first times trying to layer vocals as well as adding harmonies. The other nice aspect is that this will also be an object lesson both in song recording, but especially in combining multiple recordings into one music video. 

On the homefront the biggest events have been a hailstorm in March that will result in us replacing a big portion of the roof and several windows. With a 2% deductible, that means we're going to be out about $10K of our own cash. We were lucky that we inherited that amount from my mother's 401K when she passed. And when it rains it pours (no pun intended), because our previously reliable (not counting bulbs) front projector seems to be dying on us. The picture dimmed considerably and when I replaced the bulb it didn't make any difference. We made the choice just to replace it, and ended up choosing a JVC that can display 4K, although it's not a native 4K to the unit. It basically upscales/doubles the image faster than the eye can see, so it will accept 4K signals and it will make 1080p signals appear to be 4K. True 4K projectors are still prohibitively expensive, so we're hoping to get at least five years out of this one (the previous one almost made it that long), and by then 4K prices should have dropped to more reasonable levels. 

At the end of March we traveled to Toronto to see David Gilmour at Air Canada Center and then to Chicago a few days later where I flew solo for his show at the United Center. He exceeded all my expectations. My only complaint is that the time flew by so fast and the next thing I knew the show was over. I really hope he films a show or two from this tour, perhaps the planned shows from Pompeii this summer. His most recent album is probably his best, and his set list was probably more than half Pink Floyd tunes. He played Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Time, arguably my top two choices to see live so everything else was icing on the cake. 

Interview with Mark Day of Fractal Audio

Mark Day gets around. Currently the Artist in Residence for Fractal Audio Systems, Mark brings decades of experience and a keen appreciation for the great tones of classic and hard rock. Mark’s guitar skills have landed him gigs with none other than the legendary Dave Friedman, with whom he worked alongside during a stint in LA that saw him also working for Tone Merchants and fielding offers from the likes of Suhr Guitars. Mark has worked directly with the likes of Eddie Van Halen and the band, Steve Stevens, George Lynch, Jerry Cantrell and many other legends of the six string. 

Mark Day has long been known for his presence on the internet where he has recorded dozens of gear demos and song covers. Mark combines great chops and musicianship with a tongue in cheek approach that makes his videos both entertaining and educational. He’s known for his silly faces and self deprecating style, both elements which are often lacking among “serious” musicians. 

Mark has been cited as a primary reason for many gear purchases, not insignificantly for Fractal Audio Axe Fx units both past and present. Yours truly owes a debt of gratitude to Mark for my original AxeFx Ultra and later AxeFx II purchases. (not to mention a Suhr Modern). 

Mark’s videos have converted countless analog non believers to the superiority of the AxeFx by the simple approach of playing songs. With Mark’s great understanding of tone and musicianship, you can see what’s truly possible with this amazing digital modeler, which in many ways has surpassed its analog predecessors. 

Darren:  Can you just tell us your name and your occupation or job title?

Mark: I work for Fractal Audio and I’m their Artist in Residence.

 

Darren:  So tell me what's on the what's on the front burner at Fractal, are there any high-priority projects?

Mark:  I’m not actually working on the firmware, that’s actually the geniuses here at Fractal, like Cliff. I get to reap the benefits of their brilliance. I just get to do little demos here and there. It’s fun for me to see these products and enhancements before the general public, I feel really lucky to do that because there are so many more deserving players out there, that’s for sure.  I'm just, I would say, the average player with better than average luck. 

Darren: I think there are a lot of people that would dispute that. We know you’re Canadian and you’re humble.  (we went off the record here for a short bit, there are non disclosure agreements in place for Mark’s job at FAS so we were just establishing some limits) 

Darren: What are your earliest musical memories, as a child?    

Mark: I’m a late bloomer, I didn’t actually pick up the guitar until I was about seventeen. As a kid at age thirteen-fourteen, I was always looking at the Sears catalog and you would see electric guitars and it always piqued my interest and I would ask my parents, can I get an electric guitar?  They were not into that kind of thing. I guess I was attracted to it and I always liked listening to music and I think the thing that really did it for me like so many guys my age, baby boomers, seeing Kiss, you know, Kiss Alive, that first live record that they did. That just made me want to play music and to be like Kiss. I remember listening to that first live record and hearing the way the guitar sounded, I couldn’t believe how powerful six strings could sound. That was my first kind of eye-opening experience to music and guitar and it wasn’t long after I got a summer job and saved up all my money and went down to the local music store and bought a guitar and it stayed in my hands like six, seven, eight hours a day every day for a long long time.

Darren: So you were totally into from the get go. 

Mark:  Totally. It was like a drug. 

Darren:  Do you remember your first guitar? Do you still have it?  

Mark: I don’t have it. It was a Hofner Les Paul copy. 

Darren: Oh yeah, I know the Hofners. 

Mark: Yeah (laughs) it was a real piece of junk, the neck was twisted on it, but it was the first guitar that I bought. I bought it with my own money and I think I paid, $200 with a case, so it was nothing special for sure, but I couldn’t put it down. I played it all day and all night. I would fall asleep with it in my hands, and I didn’t go outside, I just stayed in and played my guitar.

Darren: Were you self taught? Did you take lessons? 

Mark: Yeah, absolutely. You guys in this day & age have the internet, tablature, and millions of people that play guitar, they’re all over YouTube. If you want to learn how to play a song and you’re not into theory or tab, you can just google search and someone will be doing a lesson on it. Whereas, when I was young we had LPs, you know, records, and I would sit there in front of the record player, and you would have to tune your guitar to the record and you couldn’t slow it down, so you had to pick up the needle and play a little section of the song and try and pick it out, play along with it, then go on to the next section. It’s not like it is today where someone has taken the time to write the tablature out, and done a lesson on it, so on and so forth. It was a lot more difficult to learn but it was fun, it kept me busy.

Darren: It trained you to use your ear, and I think that’s probably the most critical component. 

Mark: Yeah, definitely. To be able to pick up parts in songs. There are some people I know that can listen toa song and twenty minutes later they’ve got every single note. I was never one those guys, but I had a decent ear. It served me well and it helped me to learn songs, it got me into bands, so it was a lot of fun.

Darren: Just to give you some context, you mentioned Kiss. My actual first album was “Dressed to Kill”, the LP. I’m not a youngster by any means, I’m 47, so I have a fairly similar frame of reference to you. 

Mark : Okay, then you know exactly where I’m coming from.

Darren: Yeah, I played guitar a little bit in my teens and I was in the Army for a long time, I put the guitar down, which was probably the stupidest thing I ever did, but I picked it back up about ten years ago, so I know where you’re coming from. Especially if it’s Van Halen I, you probably wore out several copies of it trying to figure out Eruption and everything else. 

Mark: Actually back then when I heard Eruption it was almost deflating. I heard it and it was like “Oh My God!”. You know, here I was struggling to play simple things like “The Boys are Back in Town”, you know some Thin Lizzy stuff or some Kiss stuff and then when I heard Eddie play Eruption it was like “Oh My God!” 

Darren: I don’t know about your experience, but I didn’t conceive that it actually was live guitar. It was actually a year or two before someone keyed me in and said, “No, that’s actually live, that’s one dude playing a guitar”. It was like “How?”.  I couldn’t conceive of the sounds I was hearing when I first listened to VH1. 

Mark: It was pretty mind blowing. I never thought I was good enough to even play that stuff. I didn’t learn Eruption, until probably, maybe ten years ago?  I just felt that it was always just over my head. Especially the feel, he’s got such a slithery way of getting into notes, he’s got such a groove, it’s really hard to copy. When you hear him play that kind of stuff, if you want to cover it, you try to do it as close as you possibly can, but his style is really hard to emulate.

Darren: I agree, that’s what everybody misses, myself included is the groove. You can get the notes and get them all in the right sequence and maybe play it at speed, but if you don’t have the groove it just doesn’t work at all. That’s what makes all those guys great, Stevie Ray, Eddie, all those guys. You mentioned your parents, was there anyone musical in your family? Anyone that was a singer or played instruments?

Mark: Well, my brother played drums for awhile and he could sing but he only did it for a couple of years and he played in a band. I would say his drum career lasted about three years and that was it. He went on to other things. I was the only one in the family that ever played anything. Now, these days as I’m older I’ve got a bunch of second cousins, my cousin’s children, they all grew up to be very musical, they all play instruments and play in bands. When I was younger I was the only one. 

Darren: You mentioned that you’re a product of your times because if you had the inclination back then it was a lot harder to break through and get an instrument and to see other people, and now everything is a couple of keystrokes away at least as far as exposure and lessons. 

Mark: It’s almost like if you can’t play Eruption in three or four lessons you just give it up.

Darren: Exactly, because there’s four hundred other people on YouTube that can play it (laughs) so I know. 

Mark: There are so many wildly amazing players out there, that I’ve just given up the competition when I was younger and now it’s not a competition. There are so many excellent players out there that I’m not in that class. I just kind of do it because I love it. I do what I like to do, and have fun at it. As long as I’m having fun at it then it’s a good thing. 

Darren: To put a microscope on it a little bit, what parts are the fun parts to you? That’s kind of a vague question, I realize. 

Mark: Yeah, the fun parts. I was never a writer. I’m a sideman, that’s for sure. I like playing other people’s stuff and that’s just what I like to do. I wrote when I was a little bit younger and wasn’t very good atit, and I didn’t really enjoy the writing process much. Whereas I really enjoy listening to players that really say something in their playing.  Guys like Steve Stevens, George Lynch, or Steve Lukather, Gary Moore. Those kinds of players. I really enjoy listening to stuff that they put out that gives me the chill factor, makes my hair stand on end. Sitting down and learning those parts and kind of putting my own feel to it, that’s what’s fun to me. Just learning new things, even if it’s old songs and stuff, its new stuff to me, and accomplishing stuff that I didn’t think I could possibly play in a million years and being able to pull it off, that’s what’s fun to me. 

Darren:  I think a lot of people have that. Especially like you said, if it’s something that’s really taken you a long time because that delayed gratification when you finally get it and you realize how hard it was. Eruption, or whatever it is. You’ve got that whole nostalgia factor, you know, the longer you have to wait for something. 

Mark: Yeah, exactly. I thank technology for coming up with some of the tools we have today. I think of certain software packages like Transcribe that you know, slow things down and you can tune the song and loop the song, and things like that which really aid in learning stuff properly. That’s a real godsend. I wish I had that stuff when I was younger.  Also, just the sounds that you can get now. I remember in the 80s and 90s, building these huge racks of gear to get the sound that I wanted and now it comes in a black box like the AxeFx which is just amazing. An amazing, amazing tool that can get these great guitar sounds that you never thought possible and it’s right there. It’s easy to dial in and it makes you sound like a rock star through your Mac.

Darren: All the previously perceived evils of digitization and digital technology have now been overcome and not just for the convenience factor but just the quality is that it's at the point where human capacity is now the important difference. (the limitation isn’t the gear anymore, it’s truly in the hands of the player) Everybody's got their analog gear they love, and if it sounds good why change it? So, I don't argue with those guys necessarily, but it’s like you say that everything you can do inside a modeler like the AxeFx is crazy.

Mark: I hear things that people post, you know on Facebook or YouTube, just young people and the sounds they’re getting are like “Wow, how did they get it to sound like that?”. (in the past) To get sounds like that you’d have to sit in a million dollar studio for weeks on end with a world famous engineer to get those kind of sounds before and now anyone can go buy this box and put something out that sounds as good or better than a lot of the classic records.

Darren: So contrast the ease of access we have now, to how you had to learn, sometimes by brute force, so to speak, using your ear, how is it a negative to have all that stuff right there in front of you?

Mark: I don’t think it’s a negative at all. I wish I would have had it. I guess the benefit of going the long haul is I had to use my ear and I learned what I like and I can pretty much dial in a sound within a matter of seconds that I like. If someone puts an AxeFx in front of me and says “Here’s a blank preset, now find something”. A minute later I’m going to have something I can use. Which is really cool. 

Darren: So, let’s explore that a little bit, because this is actually tied in to some questions I had already planned. Describe how you would build a preset, but in the context of what your years of analog experience bring to the table. What is that you know from those years, that you wouldn’t necessarily have if you had just been handed an AxeFx from the beginning.

Mark: Well, signal path for starters. I hope I understand signal path. I know what should go in front of an amp and what should go in the effects loop of an amp, post amp, post cabinet. So I know that, I know what I like to hear. When I look at the AxeFx, I always think about when I had a big rack, you know, a twenty space Bradshaw rig, where I had a few pedals in front of my preamp, and then ran all my post effects in the effects loop or after the preamp. I hated noise so I always had noise gates in my old rigs so I had absolutely no noise whatsoever on stage. I always used line mixers and stuff like that so that my guitar sound was always intact and I could blend in effects, kind of like a live mixing console. I used to do my own sound, I had my own PA system and I did sound for our band and I used to rent out PAs and I learned to never give the singer a microphone into a delay unit and then plug that into the mixer that’s not how it works. You plug the microphone into a channel on the mixer and then a send from that to a delay unit and then take the output from the delay unit into another channel where you can EQ that if you need to and you run it all in parallel so that you don’t get phase issues. I always look at setting up my guitar sound sort of like that.  So, when I’m building a preset I’m always thinking about my big rig. Although you don’t really have to with the AxeFx. Sometimes people will ask why I’m running my delays in parallel, and I’ll say “You don’t have to.”, but I just do it out of habit. 

 

Darren: Clearly for you, sitting in front of the AxeFx and seeing the grid layout, it’s not daunting for you like it might be for someone who doesn’t know what the components are, and you already know how they work. The AxeFx is thankfully intuitive if you have a basic understanding like you discussed. 

Mark: I remember when I was younger and I couldn’t figure what In and Out meant. You know, “I’ve got two pedals, now what do I do? I’m going out of my guitar so it must go to the out plug.” You do stupid things like that. And there’s no sound until you finally understand signal path. You know that in goes to out and vice versa. You don’t have to worry about that with AxeFx because it’s all laid out for you.  Sometimes old analog users are frightened by the grid, but it all makes sense once you look at it for a few minutes. It’s all very logically laid out and easy to use. It’s really easy to get a bad sound if you want to as well.

Darren: (laughs)

Mark: Tweaking things that you don’t know about, but if you just use the basic functions, like, the first thing to do is, I just tell people, bring up an amp, stick it in the middle of the grid and then put a cabinet block right after it. Then put shunts from the beginning to the end and pretend that amp block is just like the real amp. You’re going to go to the input gain, turn that up a bit, go to your tone-stack, forget about all the advanced parameters and just get a good basic sound into a cabinet block that you like. If you like Marshall 4x12s, there’s a million Marshall 4x12s there. Pick one, then try a bunch until you find the sound you like, then once you have the core sound then start adding delays, phasers, flangers, pitch blocks, stuff like that. Start with the basics and it’s really easy to get a good sound. A lot of people see all these advanced parameters and they start messing around and it can sound really bad really quickly and then they get frustrated with the technology. Just treat it like a normal amp and you’ll get a good sound. 

 

Darren: I’ve noticed a couple of your posts with the new firmware (FW18 at the time of the interview), and I’m not asking for firmware details, but you always joke about using too much distortion in your videos, which I find hilarious because I didn’t realize there was such a thing, but you never use too much distortion that we can’t hear the notes, you can still hear the nuance. Most of my favorite players use all the parameters available to include their fingers, pick attack, tone/volume controls. Guys like Eric Johnson, Larry Carlton, and Joe Bonamassa are always riding their tone and volume controls. Their tone isn’t such that when you get the volume past two or three, you’re already in face melt territory. So I noticed you had mentioned playing a little less gain on the new firmware, so I thought that was kind of cool. (laughs)

Mark: Yeah, I’m just funning around with this stuff. I typically like a very high gain sound. I’ve played live in so many bands for so many years, but now I watch people in that scene on YouTube and it’s not as dynamic. When I played live I was always riding the volume, all the time. I mean, that’s my main instrument is my volume control. I always had volume pedals, and I was always using the volume pot on the guitar to get different nuances of gain or sound. From turning it way down to get a cleanish kind of sound to in the middle for crunch and all the way up for a solo. Back it off to about 8 for regular rhythms that are high gain but you don’t want squeals. 

Darren: It just seemed interesting to me that you were talking about messing around with the new Plexi models and just using less gain than you typically would. 

Mark: I tend to just go for my tastes. I realize it’s not everybody’s taste, but I try to remind people of that. People say “You use too much gain!” in all this 80s stuff, you know, “Why don’t you show some other things?”. (laughs). My comment to that is I do what I do, what I think I can handle. I can’t play Stevie Ray Vaughan, so I’m not going to attempt it. You may want to hear a demo with a Stevie Ray tone, but it’s not going to be from me. If you want to hear Steve Lukather, Van Halen, Ratt, or Lynch, that’s what I like to do. That’s where I fit comfortably. I try not to go out of my comfort zone. 

 

Darren: I find it exasperating, or really I just laugh now because people have this sense of entitlement and it’s your job to give them exactly what they want. You posted a video and now you’ve got this implicit contract with the world at large, it’s amusing to me. 

Mark: Thankfully a lot of the people that watch dig what I’m doing which is really good for me. I’m very fortunate. If I had to be diversified, it wouldn’t happen. I’m not that player. 

Darren: I think people would know it too. If you don’t like the music and you’re just going through the motions, people are going to know it. 

Mark: I’ve gotten on that path every once in awhile where somebody is really bugging me and I’ll do it and then regret that I did it, and I don’t look happy in the video. 

Darren: Life’s too short to learn songs you don’t really like (sorry to all pro musicians everywhere, obviously you have to pay the bills so this statement is a bit pie in the sky)  Your Steve Ray comment reminds me of a joke. How many guitarists does it take to play a Stevie Ray Vaughan song?

Mark: I don’t know

Darren: Apparently all of them.

Mark: (laughs), exactly. 

Darren: How long does it take to tune a 12 string? (I only have two jokes, promise)

Mark: I don’t know. 

Darren: No one knows (we’re still waiting).

Mark: (laughs)

Darren: this is one of those more esoteric class questions. Do you consider yourself and artist? You have the title, your job says you are (laughing). 

Mark:  No, I don’t. 

Darren: Why not?

Mark: Every day I wake up and go to work, and this started a few years back when I got asked to go and work for Tone Merchants and Friedman Amplification,  before that I was asked to go work at Suhr Guitars because of my videos. To be honest, I never got it. It was like “Really??” (laughs) “You guys want me?” “Really, why?” So, I have to pinch myself, “am I really doing this?” I don’t think of myself as an artist so much as a lucky bugger, you know?  

Darren: for whatever the validation is worth, I think people are afraid of the word art, or artist. In this class I’m in, it’s all we ever talk about. It’s used very broadly, but there’s something you bring that is you, that is based on your background, that is uniquely you. I understand what you’re saying about the context, and getting requests from companies, and I’m trying to imagine what it would be like in that situation, wondering “What I’m going to bring to the table?”.  By any definition, you are an artist. It’s not required that you release albums or write songs or compose works to be an artist. Because you definitely have a thing. You definitely have fans. 

Mark: and I appreciate that. There’s things that I hear in my playing that I know it’s me, so I guess that’s cool. I worked on my vibrato like crazy. It’s all I ever thought about and it’s all I ever did. There was actually a video that changed my life, back in 1981, and I was playing in this band and we were pretty hot stuff locally and I remember I worked for a school board and we had video cameras and they were the first video cameras you could actually carry around and they were still huge, you had to have a separate VCR to go with the cameras and they were ridiculous. 

Darren: I remember those. 

Mark: We decided to videotape this show that we did. I remember playing it back and listening and looking at the way my fingers did vibrato and I was like “Oh my god! I suck so bad, it’s awful!” It was like a revelation. I either had to quit or fix it. I remember it was just the dawn of VHS tapes, and there were movie rental places and I went to this one and there were a couple of concert videos and I remember thinking I was going to find a concert video of a guitarist that sounds good and I’ll see how he’s doing vibrato and see if I can pick it up by watching the guy. I couldn’t find anything that I liked and I ended up getting this REO Speedwagon concert and the guitar player Gary Richrath had this really nice, wide, melodic vibrato that was not what I would call a nervous vibrato like that Cher kind of vocal pattern. 

Darren: or like the bumblebee vibrato.

Mark: That was like a revelation to me because I would watch this tape and see how he was moving his fingers and I would sit there and practice in front of a mirror until I was able to cop the look and at the same time the sound and feel. I worked on vibrato forever and ever. Hours and hours for years. It was my main focus, vibrato and bending. And then there was this time in the last ten years where I would hear myself playing and I would think “I hate that, I know it’s me!”. Every time I would hear my vibrato I would know it was me and then I realized that it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing because people would say kind things about my vibrato and bending and I realized it would be really stupid if I changed it because I actually have three or four people that like it. That’s a good thing. 

Darren: we’re always our own worst critics. We can hear everything and we can see behind the screen. 

Mark: Oh man, I’m a huge critic of myself. 

Darren: You’ve got the typical Canadian modesty. I’m American, but I’m a big Rush fan and I’m familiar with the typical Canadian self deprecation and humility. 

Mark: laughs.

Darren: So you described that and I thought it was a cool that it was a big event for you. Have you had other sort of career or path shaping events like that?

Mark:  Yeah, there’s guys out there that like the tone I’m getting and there’s guys out there that hate the tone, think I’m using way to much gain, etc. So I’m focusing on the guys who like my tone. Probably the biggest revelation with my tone was that I wanted a lot of sustain and power. For the longest time I never used a distortion pedal. I had old Marshall Mark IIs that had a preamp. They were a master volume model amplifier, 100 watts, and I used those for years and years and I never used a distortion pedal in front of it. It was really difficult to get the amount of gain that I wanted having the amp and pickups squealing and howling. There were a lot of things I had to develop to get that high gain and volume without making all the noise. A big part of playing rock guitar is being able to keep it quiet between passages and not having the squealing and howling. So I developed a lot of things that helped me fight that feedback battle. There were things like using the volume control on the guitar, that was a big thing, volume pedals, noise gates. I would do little tricks with my guitars. For instance, on Les Pauls there’s the pickup rings and I would take hobbyist glue and I would glue the pickup edges to the rings so they wouldn’t move. To prove this theory, just get a guitar where the pickup is free floating, and it’s just got the two adjustment screws and turn your amp up really loud. Just mute all the strings except the lowest one and just let it start to do its business. You’ll notice that if you hold the pickup firmly in place, it’s not going to squeal and howl. 

Darren: Is it because of the actual pickup movement within the magnetic field that it’s feeding back?

Mark: Yeah, exactly. The pickup is vibrating, and at a certain volume it starts to pickup additional noise and vibrations and it will actually start to move around and get this real low end howling noise and if you put your finger on the pickup it will stop that feedback. When I was younger I used to put cotton balls in my pickup cavity or pieces of foam to keep the pickup in place. The easiest thing for me is just to take some hobbyist glue and put a couple of beads so that they pickup can’t move. If it’s adjusted and you’ve got the right height, tone, just use the glue to fix the edge to the pickup ring and a lot of your feedback problems will go away. Of course there are noise gates. It’s funny, because I’ll get whatever rig I’m using and I’ve been at shows where we’re playing and my rig is at volume and really cooking and someone will come up and ask to sit in and I give the guy my guitar and they’re a decent player but they can’t control my rig at all and will ask “How can you use this much gain and control it?” I’ll get on and it’s totally quiet. There’s no feedback going on, unless it’s controlled where I want it. Taming the feedback monster was a big revelation for me too. That was really cool. 

Darren: I think it’s something that a lot of people don’t appreciate with guys like Eric Johnson or EVH that it’s not just the notes they’re playing, it’s the notes they’re not playing. The notes they’re muting, whether they’re using their right or left hand, and how delicate a balance that is and if you don’t have it, it’s going to be really obvious. 

Mark: Oh yeah. I’ve heard inexperienced guitar players go on stage and not with a lot of gain but they’re still having big feedback issues, there’s all kind of 60 cycle hum. I always made a big effort to make sure that my gear was always top notch running wise, quiet as a mouse, no ground loops and hums, crackles, or bad cables. I always wanted to show up to the gig where you didn’t know my amp was on. When I hit that first chord, you were going to fly back in your seat because you weren’t expecting that kind of power. Darren: It’s interesting that probably the most popular question I saw on the Fractal site was specifically that (Mark’s quiet rig). I think many people have this idea that a lot of it is in the AxeFx. What I assumed and you’ve now confirmed that a lot of it is happening outside the AxeFx. 

Mark: Yeah. Part of it’s controlling your guitar, standing in the right spot. Your pickups, your hand muting, both left and right hand muting. When I play solos I’m using both hands for muting. If you watch some of the videos I’m doing with high gain, I’ll have my right hand fingers on strings that I’m not using just to keep them quiet. It’s a whole skill set to be able to keep your guitar quiet when it’s supposed to be quiet and noisy when it’s supposed to be noisy. That’s a big part of guitar playing. Another thing is intonation. Just because you play a G chord doesn’t mean it’s in tune, even if the guitar is in tune.

Darren: Especially down at the low end (of the fingerboard). 

Mark: I never realized, especially when I was playing Floyd Rose equipped guitars, how much I was bending the strings in chord patterns to keep the guitar in tune. You hand your guitar to somebody to start playing and it sounds whacked out of tune, and then you pick it up and it’s totally in tune. I discovered that when I was playing I was actually compensating the intonation with the way I bend my fingers during chord shapes and solos and how I placed my fingers on the frets, how I’m moving the strings, how I’m using vibrato in chords just to keep everything intonated. Intonation is so, so important. It’s not just plugging your guitar into a tuner and saying, “Okay, we’re good.” It’s so much more than that. That was a very important revelation to me. 

Darren: Yeah, it’s so critical with intonation and with bending it’s very obvious if you don’t know where you’re at. Let me ask you some more artsy questions. Have you had any other kind of big, significant emotional events (like the vibrato revelation)?

Mark:  Probably so many. Well, singing. Same thing with singing. Intonation while you’re singing is so important. There are too many guitar players out there, so you have to sing some stuff, you have to sing background or sing lead vocals. You have to do more than just play guitar. There are so many good guitar players, you’re not going to get a job. If you’re playing in a band, singing is a musical instrument just like playing guitar. I still remember back in the first band I was playing in one of my best friends Roy Nichol, who is the drummer for April Wine, I don’t know if you know them. (http://www.aprilwine.ca/news/second-news-item/)

Darren: Oh yeah, “Just Between You and Me”

Mark: Yeah. I played with Roy for thirty years. 

Darren: That’s awesome. They’re an awesome band. 

Mark:  I still remember when I was a kid and he asked me to play in his band and I didn’t sing and he just basically said, he stuck a microphone in my face and said “You’re going to learn to sing. Because we need to do harmonies, we need to make this band something different, so you need to sing. And if you don’t sing, I’m going to punch you in the head.”

Darren: (laughs) That’s good motivation. 

Mark: (laughing), and it was good motivation. I don’t think he’d ever punch me in the head, but he was pretty intimidating, and he was a very talented guy, a great singer, great drummer and a great guitar player too. Imagine me as the guitar player, I join this band and he plays half the night on drums and half the night on guitar and he shows me all the guitar solos.

Darren: That’s amazing.

Mark: The drummer showing the guitar player how to play the guitar solos. If you’ve ever seen any of my Journey cover videos, he’s playing the drums, keyboards, and he’s doing all the vocals too. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyOD4LCpbkw&list=RDuyOD4LCpbkw#t=7)

Darren: I love those. I think you’ve done some Rush that way too.

Mark: Yes, he sings the Rush stuff too. That’s Roy. 

Darren: He’s a triple threat at least, maybe he’s a quadruple or quintuple threat.

Mark: And he’s an amazing studio engineer (laughing).

Darren: I already hate him (laughing)

Mark: He’s got more talent in his fingernail than I have in my whole body. If I could offer any guitar player advice it’s to find somebody that’s way better than you. Because you’re going to learn so much. Always hang out with people that are way better than you, and you’ll always advance. If you’re the best in your band or crew, get away from it.  Go someplace else where you find better musicians or more eclectic musicians. Just to develop your own goods through them. 

Darren: To expand on that, do you like to put yourself in uncomfortable situations whether it’s musically or creatively to kind of spark that? 

Mark: No, I’m slow to the game so I’m a chronic choker. 

Darren: (laughs)

Mark: I like to do things on my own time. I have been put into situations where it was a good thing and I’ve been put into situations where it wasn’t so good. Moving out to Los Angeles was a big deal. I had a really good job in Canada, had a house, and a music school and I was giving lessons, had a band. I just decided I needed to be away from there for more reasons that just music. It was like being dropped onto another planet.

Darren: I can imagine.

Mark: I was taken out of my comfort zone. I basically moved to LA with a little bit of music gear and a couple pairs of jeans in a suitcase and started from scratch. It was very interesting, and pretty scary. There were a few times where I thought “What am I doing? I should just go back to Canada.” But I persevered and met a lot of interesting people and I got to work with people like Dave Friedman, and I got to do things that guitar players my age would just die to do. Things like doing work for Van Halen, Steve Stevens, George Lynch. I remember sitting in George Lynch’s house and programming his AxeFx, and thinking “Wow!”

Darren: Am I here? Pinch yourself.

Mark: Yeah, this is crazy, so many things. 

Darren: I saw the video with you and Steve Stevens, and I was thinking I wouldn’t be able talk coherently.  

Mark: Yeah, Steve is such a great guy. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met out there for sure. He’s very kind and he’s one of the first real rock stars that I met, and he was so nice to me. He actually came up to me, he approached me and gave me a hug and said “Mark, I love your videos!”.

Darren: Wow.

Mark: I said, “Are you kidding me?” He goes, “No, I’m a big fan, and I really like your stuff.”

Darren: There you go. You’re an artist, Mark, face it. (laughs). 

Mark: He was just a super sweetheart and so many really cool things. Getting to work on Van Halen’s rig and watch them in a little room rehearse for their latest tour they went on and to get to sit there and watch and get to listen to Eddie do the whole Van Halen I, right in front of me, twenty feet away.
Darren: That’s crazy. 

Mark: You know, I didn’t sleep that night. I was like “Oh my god, did that just happen?”

Darren: And did this come about because you went to California and you were working for Dave Friedman and Tone Merchants? Is that how these opportunities came about? 

Mark: Yeah, Dave worked with all these artists so I got to hang out and collaborate and help him out get to see all these concerts and rehearsals. We were always in people’s rehearsals like Alice in Chains, Billy Idol, The Offspring, I did a lot of stuff with building and programming pedal boards for George Lynch, god, so many artists, Lukather, Joe Bonamassa, Jerry Cantrell, just so many things that were so cool that I never dreamed of doing, and it just fell in my lap. There were times I would be driving on the 101 to work and just going “Wow! How is this happening?” (laughs). It’s so bizarre that it’s happening to me. There’s so many people out there that are more deserving, but it just kind of happens so I’m going to soak up as much as I possibly can, because it’s really really cool. I can’t even remember half the things, and it’s funny when I was out there because I didn’t post half the stuff on Facebook because nobody would believe it. “Okay, Mark, you gotta stop this because people are beginning to think you’re full of crap.”  Very lucky, fortunate person for sure. 

Darren: To get paid to do what you love, what could be better?

Mark: Yeah, yeah. And while that’s going on I get to meet the love of my life, Roxanne, so life is pretty cool. 

Darren: I did see you had posted that part of the incentive to working for Fractal was that you would be closer I guess?

Mark:  Yes, that’s right. Closer to Roxy, closer to my family. The weather sucks here, but other than that I just love being closer to her and she’s with me a lot more and I’m going to see her a lot more and it’s really nice. She’s sitting right beside me right now. She’s an awesome girl and it’s really nice to have someone in your life that supports what you’re doing and she really lifts me up, that’s for sure. 

Darren: Mike Myers had made a comment about how when he was at Second City that he would have these great weeks but the payoff was when he would come home and talk to his family and his Dad and all his accomplishments during the week didn’t mean much until he had someone to share them with and that’s what makes it all worth it. That’s awesome. 

Mark: Oh yeah. When I was out in LA and I’d do fun or cool things I couldn’t wait to call Roxy and let her know what happened, it made it that much better. 

Darren: I got one last question and I’m going to let you go because we’re already over an hour. House is on fire, what piece of gear, or instrument (not counting Roxy, cats or whatever loved ones you would rescue first), what musical instrument or equivalent do you save?

Mark: It would definitely be my Lifeson Les Paul. 

Darren: Oh yeah, you have the Axcess?

Mark: Yes, I have the Lifeson Axcess. 

Darren: Awesome. 

Mark: It’s a newer guitar for me. I’ve got another Les Paul that’s really special too, but I’ve had this Lifeson for a couple of months now and I just really, really fallen for it. It’s one of those instruments that comes around not very often. I’ve had a few really good guitars in my life, but this was one is really special. I’ve always been a Les Paul guy, I love the tone of a Les Paul, the weight of it. I’m a little guy but, people always pick up my Les Paul and say “Wow, it’s so heavy man, how can you play with this?” I pick up other guitars and they feel like toys. I like to feel ten or twelve pounds in my hands, it’s just really cool. But this one here (Lifeson LP), with the Floyd, I always liked Floyd Roses, not just for whammy bar stuff, to be honest I rely on my finger vibrato way more than using the bar. I like what a Floyd Rose does to the strings, I like the way it resonates, I like the way it warbles if I hit a string really hard, I get that sort of Brad Gillis thing. 

Darren: Yeah. How many springs?

Mark: I’ve got two. Maybe three. I might have gone back to three, normally two or three.

Darren: Is it floating, flush?

Mark: No, it’s floating. Yeah, anything I ever had a Floyd Rose on was all full floating. I mentioned before about intonation, and I got so used to playing with a Floyd back in the 90’s that the way I bend the strings when playing chords to keep it in tune has just become part of me, so when I found a Les Paul that had a Floyd on it, I was in heaven. It was perfect. 

Darren: So are you riding the Floyd with your right hand, or do you have one of those compensators. I forget what it’s called, but I have this shock absorber thing that always brings it back to zero. 

Mark: No, I basically burn the coating off the Floyd with my acidic hands. 

Darren: So you keep your hand on it to keep everything else in tune when you bend?

Mark: Yeah, I don’t really pay attention to what I’m doing, but the palm of my hand is always on the bridge. 

Darren: I’m assuming all that stuff is just subconscious now, keeping the intonation when you play a chord, all those kind of controls and the muting that you do, it just becomes natural so you’re not thinking about it. 

Mark: Yeah, I’ve sat there for students when I was giving a guitar lesson and they’d ask me questions like “How do you keep the bends in tune?”. I would sit there and go, “Well, let’s look at what I’m doing.”  When I realized what I was doing it was like “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff going on here that I didn’t even realize.” It’s weird what you pick up over the years. 

Darren: Well, and they say the best way to learn something is to have to teach it. Like, “Whoa, let me actually analyze this and see what’s going on.” Hey Mark, I really, really appreciate all the time. You’ve gone well over the projected, reasonable amount of time.

Mark: Thanks, we talked about a lot of things and we hit on a lot of things that I didn’t even think about for a long time. 

 

Much appreciation and respect for Mark and all he’s done through the years. He was very generous with his time and answers, but being that he’s a Canadian homeboy and Rush fan, it’s not all that surprising. In the time since this interview was recorded, Mark has continued to work at FAS and they’ve recently released a paradigm changing update to the firmware, which has been renamed to Quantum. In my little time using it, I’ve had that typical FAS experience of quickly just falling into playing and forgetting about fiddling with knobs. Guitarists and gearheads will never stop tweaking knobs, but at the end of the day all we want to do is play. Mark Day gets to do that for a living and he’s inspired countless admirers to follow in his footsteps. For this we’re eternally grateful. 

Interview with Troy Grady

Interview with Troy Grady of “Cracking the Code”

Troy Grady isn’t simply described or categorized. An attempt to distill him down to one or two words invariably falls short of capturing the complex arrangement of many talents which he brings to bear in his creative endeavors. So, I invented a new word: Multiinstrumentalamediaentrepreneurialinguist. Webster’s, take note. 

Troy Grady is the mastermind and primary creative force behind the groundbreaking web series, “Cracking the Code” which reveals the secret techniques employed by the virtuoso legends of guitar. The series unveils previously hidden nuances to the techniques that separate the all time great shredders from the six string punters clogging up Guitar Center and Youtube. (and, ahem,  the blogoverse). 

Troy’s keen intellectual mind, combined with a deep well of cultural references and visual media acumen has resulted in a series that is immediately entertaining but very dense and worth multiple repeat views. The series is part biographical, part historical and all educational. The guitar tuition alone is enough to justify a curriculum at the university level. 

Troy’s project stemmed from a lifelong love of music, and a special devotion to the heyday of 80s era rock lead guitar. The germ of the project actually began in his time at Yale, where he was majoring in Italian, you know, as most budding entrepreneurial guitarists are wont to do. Viewers of “Cracking the Code” will quickly surmise Troy’s shrewd analysis, wit, and his sponge like absorption of culture both past and present. 

 

D: Watching “Cracking the Code”,  I can’t even conceive of the amount of time and effort that must have gone into the project. 

T: It was harder learning the skills in the first place. Now we have this whole production system and language we use to describe these things internally between me and the guys (Troy has a team of 3 including himself) so it’s very easy to cook up these kinds of visuals now. But, it took us several, probably two years to actually develop that language, to get everybody with the same skills, to get to the point that any one of us could open up a project done by any one of the others. 

In his blog, Troy describes the initial responses the team received when they would try and preview animations in process to friends, family, the UPS guy. The initial efforts weren’t so well received until the team had a sort of epiphany in that the animations didn’t have sound or music.  In assembling the clips to allow room for sound effects and music, they realized that to keep an even and steady flow, they had to treat the vignettes as if they were a piece of music and apply a sort of rhythm to the process.

D:  I thought it was really interesting in your blog how you mentioned the use of the “metronomic click”. How you ended up approaching it like it was basically an instrument.

T:  Unless someone works in production, you can’t show someone a half finished project and get an honest appraisal for what it’s like. They can’t separate the analytical from the visceral. They don’t know how to look at that and say, “Oh, that’s going to be really great once you add music to it”, they just think it looks boring. It’s very much like trying to play unmixed tracks (music) to someone who’s not a recording engineer. They just sound bad. They’re like, “Oh, but it doesn’t have 2db of dynamic range, and it’s not brick wall limited” (this is a music production joke about the tendency of modern pop music to be so over compressed in an attempt to make it louder but resulting in a loss of dynamic range and vitality).

D: (laughs) As is preferred by John Q. Public. 

T: Exactly. 

D: What’s on the front burner right now?

T:  There are no big projects, but we do two main things that make money. We make the episodes of the show and we have this lecture series that we started called “Masters in Mechanics”, which is a monthly, very detailed investigation of a particular topic or player.  So it’s the juggling act between those two things and being pecked by the 1000 crows of everything else that you need to handle…

D: like interview requests…

T:  …and customer service emails, blog posts, posting things on Facebook, writing articles for Guitar World, which is another thing that we do now with some regularity. Making episodes is the hardest thing we do because they’re the most involved, they take the most time, and it’s the thing that everybody clamors for, ironically that we can’t deliver as fast as we’d like. 

So the lecture series was actually a way around that. By saying, ok, here’s something we can deliver, probably on a monthly basis, that is a huge amount of work, but of a different variety. So, if people want more of Cracking the Code, in some form, this is a way that we can deliver that. Whereas the show episodes are just going to have to take as long as they take, and until I get three more people here, there is no way that the pace is going to approach that of cat videos, and talking head blogs. 

D: and that is your competition…

T: It’s my own competition, I should be working sometimes. I need to watch Maru jumping into or out of the box. I actually don’t know what our competition is, we’re pretty much doing the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to be doing on the internet. 

D: Yes, I was joking about the cat video, as far as actual competition, you don’t have any, you’re in a league of one.   

T:  I guess, but the internet has enabled you to make cheap things that are reasonably entertaining with almost no work and a high frequency of output. But we decided to completely do the opposite and make life difficult for us, by trying to make things with a pseudo-television level of production value that take forever to do.  

D:  What’s a typical workday like for you?

T:  I don’t know if we’ve really achieved a rhythm on that front. We do have an office, I have a studio that’s just down the block from the office, so that actually works out very well. I work better in an office setting. If I’m forced to work from home, inevitably naps happen at like 3 o’clock (laughs) that’s no good. Then I end up staying up way later than is really productive if you want to maintain any sort of schedule, so I like coming to an office. It’s usually a mixture of doing all the animation which we mainly do here, but any live playing and filming is done at the the studio, as well as soundtrack work which happens there if we need to record drums, or do anything, you know, turn on an amp or play drums. I tend to do that from the studio and I’ll do all that stuff early in the morning if I can and then come in here, hopefully by the middle of the afternoon at the latest and then take all that stuff and start assembling it or editing it. 

So, it’s almost like going fishing in the morning. You get up really early and you go and turn on all the gear and see what comes out, see what you catch. You put it all together and come back to the office and put it all together and see if you’ve got anything good. So, that is one rhythm that we have, on days when we’re doing heavy show production, and that’s usually toward the end of the episode when I start doing all the soundtrack stuff. We’ll plan for the soundtrack from the beginning, but we’ll only start doing towards the end once we have rough edits of all the animations together because sometimes the timing of the one thing influences the other thing. We’ll go back after the animations, and say “Oh, give me one more bar of space here because I want to have this particular thing happen in the song”, and I sometimes won’t know that until I’ve actually done the song, usually to a scratch version of the animation. So, it’s this iterative process, but that’s the good part of the process, because it’s usually towards the end which means we’re getting close to finishing it. 

D: It’s probably a fluid process. 

T: Yep, and the seminar stuff throws a monkey wrench into that, just because filming those 3-4 hour video marathons is entirely in the studio, and that requires planning, and a certain amount of caffeine and sustenance (laughs) to make it through seven hours worth of that. Then making sure you’re got it all and then invariably having to go back and edit and film these lick (guitar) packs that we distribute along with that. These are slow motion examples of things I talk about in the seminar, some of which I record before the seminar, and others of which I have to go back after we film the seminar, because I mentioned five different things that I wasn’t planning on mentioning and then we have to go back and film those things so we can include them.

D: Have you found yourself hesitating to answer a question or make a reference, because, like, “Oh my god, I’m going to have to demonstrate now”

T: Oh, yeah, absolutely, there’s whole topics, all the time. In fact, the guys are always trying to get the episodes to be shorter. Invariably, they become longer over time. This one that’s coming up, the Eric Johnson one, there was a whole scene involving Jimi Hendrix and the Mixolydian mode, which was really cool, and we were going to do these psychedelic colors, and Jimi shooting rainbows out of his guitar, and we had to cut that because of time. That didn’t make it into the episode, but it’s in the notes that we supply with the downloadable material. 

D: What are your earliest musical memories?

T: My parents are rock and roll generation people. We drove around in the 70’s with Rod Stewart blasting on an 8-track in the car.  I think growing up in a music friendly house was obviously of key importance because I have friends whose parents were from a generation prior to that, who listened to “Fiddler on the Roof” and Gershwin, and who were not very friendly to rock music and thought it was all a waste of time. In my household, even though they weren’t musicians, they went to shows in the 60’s and saw, like, Grace Slick walk onstage at the Fillmore East at 2am, just because she happened to be in town that day and was unannounced and just showed up at some other show. This was before the era of arena rock, and you could walk into Cafe Wha? and see some amazing act that you could throw a rock and hit from 20 feet away. 

I grew up understanding that people like Eric Clapton were geniuses. They weren’t rock and roll rebels, these were people that, if you did music, this was a thing to be admired. That’s not just true of my immediate family, but also my uncles and aunts, there were a bunch of musicians there, and it was understood in my family, and I don’t know why actually, but it was understood that this was an acceptable thing to do with your life. 

Being in the right environment certainly helps and having a supportive family environment, where things are tacitly acknowledged to have value. Even if someone is not beating you over the head and forcing things on you, if you’re a kid and you see your parents doing a thing and enjoying it, it only makes sense that is going to have some residual positive impact. 

D: Do you remember the first music you liked, or the first music you bought?

T: That’s hard to say, because I know when I was very young I had the little Micky Mouse record player, all sorts of kids stuff on 45s and I remember my grandmother giving me Englebert Humperdinck records like “Cuando Cuando Cuando” and “Please Release Me”, (laughs) and I used to listen to that, but I was not a rock fan as a kid per se, because that was what my parents liked and I didn’t know what the Rolling Stones were, or that they were such a big deal, or why you had to wait by the phone to call the radio station and win tickets to the Tattoo You concert, I didn’t know what these things were. But, that’s what they did. But, I liked Billy Joel, because we’re all from Long Island, so that’s a religion.

D: Well, they issue those, right? They come in the mail, “Here’s your new Billy Joel album”.

T: They do, yeah. Absolutely. It’s exactly like a Springsteen in Jersey kind of thing, perhaps less well known, but it’s exactly like that. Everybody knows the guy, or everybody knows the music and has some connection where their friend’s uncle’s roommate’s gardener was connected to Billy Joel in some fashion. So, I started on piano, it was the first instrument that I actually played, and of course Billy Joel music was the first stuff that I played. We did everything, from ironically not “Piano Man” first, probably more like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and “Summer, Highland Falls” and all the stuff that are more known to people who know the b sides and all the obscure songs. 

D: “And So It Goes”?, I’m sure you know that. 

T: Oh yeah, and everything off of “Streetlife Serenade” is great, “Turnstiles” is great. All those early albums had this very melancholic, almost folksy vibe to it.  They were all great piano songs, for various reasons. Then there’s the obvious sort of “Eruption” stuff like “Angry Young Man” the hammering on the C, the middle C, and then “Root Beer Rag” and a couple of others that are a little more showy.

D: How old were you when you started on Piano?

T:  Oh, I don’t know, single digits. We had an air organ, when I was really young that you plug in, it was like an accordion where you had buttons on the left for chords, and you had like a two octave keyboard on the right. My dad actually taught me how to play this, and to this day, he has no musical ability that I can think of.  The music they gave you with this was numbers, there was a little stick on strip of letters that went over the keyboard and the chords on the left were marked black for minor and white for major and the little book we had “On top of old smoky”, and it said like “1 - 1 - 3 - 5”. You would hit the white number one that would play the c major chord that went along with this and he actually showed me how to do it and that’s how I actually started playing keyboards.

D:  It’s like Piano tab (tablature, commonly used for guitar is an easier version of sheet music)

T:  Kind of, yeah. That’s exactly what it was, and my Dad’s a very technically minded guy, worked in home improvements for a number of years so it was no problem translating that. It was after that they put me in piano lessons at some point and that went up to about probably 8th or 9th grade when I actually stopped taking lessons because at that point I knew enough that I could just play the things I wanted to play. My sight reading abilities were beginner level. You were playing things that were like easy piano versions of stuff and I couldn’t stand it, but my composing and improvising skills were already kind of there at that point. I finally said, and I felt guilty about asking parents if I could stop going to piano lessons and they were like, “Sure, no problem” because at the point all I did was play piano all day. 

D: So you were learning stuff by ear?

T:  Oh yeah. There were a few key insights early on. Once I realized that “Oh, that’s what a chord progression is?” I didn’t know what that was, but once I realized that was the building block of modern pop music, essentially, everything took off from there and within a year or two, all the conventions of pop music had basically been totally distilled in my brain. I could listen to stuff on the radio and just play it. I was always using the SK1 for piano licks. We talk about this very briefly in the show, there’s a scene where I show “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” solo being played on an animated piano. That was one of the very first things I did with the SK1, was slowing down Billy Joel licks, and that was all major pentatonic stuff mainly on the white keys like C, F, and G. Piano has its own idiosyncratic vocabulary that’s not so easy to translate to guitar playing so I can’t say the one necessarily fed to the other, but these are all the interests just being mixed together, and the same tools were used to decipher them. 

D: I was amazed that you thought of the sampling approach. I love the newer things, the “Amazing Slow Downers”, but just as you show in the video, the old approach was to put the needle on the LP, play a few seconds, keep trying to put it back in the exact same spot, and you wear it out and scratch it and it no longer plays.

T:  I’m a little annoyed in that I think our experiences were so idiosyncratic that had I had an older brother or something, he would have been like “Dude, just get yourself a variable speed tape recorder and stop killing yourself”,  but I didn’t know that people were doing this in these ways. From working on the show, I’ve gotten so many emails from people with their own bizarre stories that range from modifying the rollers inside of their tape decks so that even though it was spinning at the same speed, with the bigger roller it was effectively going slower. I’m using the wrong terminology here, but basically physically modifying the tape deck to play back at a different speed so they could accomplish the same thing. There were a million different ways of doing this and it sounds like nobody really knew how anyone else was doing it, whereas now, I’m going to sound like old school, but now you just drop into any one of three or so applications for doing this, and there you go.

D: It’s on your phone with everything else. Kids these days…

T:  I know. The video games, the Rock Band games were huge for that. I don’t know if you remember when people started ripping the individual tracks. 

D: Yeah right, the multitracks, the moggs and the oggs. Love that stuff. (moggs and oggs are proprietary audio formats typically used in the various rock band video games. They were isolated individual tracks of each instrument which would allow a listener to hear individual parts and often revealed nuances not heard in the regular full band version of the song). 

T: I was hearing stuff that I had waited for 30 years to hear.

D: Absolutely. I know some of it was covers, but some of it’s the actual stems. 

T: Only the first version of the game was actual covers and they did a really good job, but no one knew the game was going to be that popular and because it became so popular, apparently it sparked this whole quest to get these master tapes which were hidden in all sorts of weird locations like buried in producer’s basements and the actually found a lot of them because they had a reason now finally now to get the isolated tracks and make money off it. So the popularity of the games helped resurrect a lot of these possibly lost tapes. So here I am listening to isolated guitar tracks from Van Halens first album. 

D: Van Halen was amazing when you could first hear just Eddie.

T:  Oh yeah! And you could tell it was live as a band because you could hear the drums bleeding in ever so slightly into the mic, or maybe it was crosstalk on the tape, but I prefer to think it was live mic bleed because that’s cooler. But you’re hearing this and going, “Oh, that’s what he played there” like where Dave (David Lee Roth) is yelling normally on the record (laughs) 

D: Yeah, something inane…

T:  Yeah, right. Someone then, of course, posted these on youtube. I remember looking up, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”, the guitar track, and it’s there, and I’m reading the comments, and one of the comments, obviously someone very young, who said “Oh, I just heard this great song yesterday, and I went on the internet to see if I could find the guitars, and here it is!!” (laughs)

D: I know, I hate you. 

T: Yeah, it’s like “Kid, you don’t know man!”

D: Exactly. It’s like “You don’t know the long slog of people trying to suss out Eddie Van Halen tracks on LPs”

T:  I know. I love to romanticize the good ole days, but the learning opportunities are just so much more immediate now. You can pickup more in 6 months on Youtube, things I didn’t even know existed. 

D: The tools are great, the Amazing Slow Downers are great when you approach it that way, but the one great thing about that era is that you basically were depending on your ear, there weren’t tabs for everything. Tabs are great, but if they become the crutch, you know full well…

T: Right. But I think of things I had to play that I didn’t know until at least six years of playing like harmonics, for example. Right hand harmonics (sometimes called false harmonics, the technique involves fretting a note on the neck with your left hand and holding usually your right index finger at a spot 12 frets higher and striking the string with your right thumb or pick. It’s a technique pioneered by Lenny Breau and Chet Atkins) - this was a thing I had heard, and had no idea how that was being done for the longest time. I remember being in the guitar store and seeing a salesman at Sam Ash fretting some super low note and hit some crazy Eddie Van Halen style high pitched right hand squeal and I’m looking at him like he sawed a woman in half. I realized that the learning process was so uneven, even for people who were talented and were seeking information, it just wasn’t that readily available. 

D: I saw on your blog you had interviewed Tommy Emmanuel. He talks about when he first started learning Chet Atkins songs, he just kind of intuitively figured out that he was playing the bass line, chords and melody. (all at the same time, live) He could just tell. Everybody else just assumed it was a studio trick, it was a bass line (played by a bassist), it was multi-tracked. But, that was his whole world and he just focused on it, he was going to figure out how to play it. There’s something to be said for people who grew up in that era and didn’t have a choice. 

T: He tells a funny story about the first Chet Atkins song he learned, called “Windy & Warm”. He listened to this forever and he couldn’tfigure out how the fretting worked and he finally was able to do it, but it was all these weird stretches and many years later when he met Chet Atkins and told him how hard it was to learn and Chet said “Oh, I used a capo”.  And Tommy’s like “Auuggghhhh!!” because he never knew.

D: He also tells the story that he started off using a regular pick, playing pick-style (holding a pick between the thumb and index finger and using the middle and ring fingertips to pick strings. A thumbpick frees up the index finger since the pick slides over the thumb and doesn’t have to be grasped by the index finger) but he saw an album cover where Chet Atkins was wearing a thumbpick, and he was like “That’s what it is!”

T:  Right, exactly. Who knew?  Which is why it’s so fascinating that these guys who had no one to learn from at all, got as far as they did, it’s almost like magic. Who did Tal Farlow have to listen to?  They had radio, maybe. If you wanted to hear a song again, you just had to wait around for awhile until they played it again. (laughs)  There were no other guitar players, no one playing the super out there stuff with the advanced picking that he was doing. He listened to Charlie Christian, who was a big influence. Charlie Christian is a great player, but of a decidedly earlier era, who did not have all the sophistication happening, the least of which on the harmonic side, but not the picking side of it either when you look at Tal’s playing now you can recognize right away what he’s doing.  You can see the sweeping in both directions, you see two way pick-slanting, and it’s amazing to look at this and go “Oh my god, no one stood a chance”. No one was going to know what this stuff was. Now it’s plain as day, you don’t even need to slow it down to see how these things work, you can just watch the guy because his hands are so big, any time he leans the pick in one direction or another you can see it with his giant thumbs. He probably has no conscious awareness of doing that, and how he figured that out in the 40s, I don’t know. 

D:  The thing I found amazing was how these guys independently figured this stuff out, even though they couldn’t really express it. I was surprised that Eric Johnson and Yngwie’s (picking) approach is pretty similar. I would never have thought that in a million years, just because they sound so differently, they play different scales and whatever, but technically that’s amazing. 

T: Absolutely. The musical styles being very different, but the string switching styles are essentially the same. That’s really what the similarity is. When you start to look at picking technique as a system of parts, each of which can be swapped out for other components, that’s how the similarity becomes more apparent. The way that these lines are organized, the rules that govern that are similar. That’s why I tend to think of them as being the same, but obviously there are other components of what they do that are not the same, or to varying degrees, only related. But I’ve come to see the string switching side of things being the most influential in determining what the player can and can not play, or what kind of things they are likely to build their style around, because that’s the biggest obstacle mechanically as far as picking is concerned, getting from one string to another. 

Your system for doing that is largely what determines the kinds of things you’re going to write and play. The greats don’t necessarily acknowledge this in a conscious way, but it’s very clear that they have a way of sensing the path of least resistance and they move forward and build all their cool licks and tricks around the things that are the easiest. It’s fascinating that they do in fact know enough that they can sense that. I’m sure we all got to a point that we said “Oh, this weird three note per string stuff is hard” but I kept banging my head against the wall trying to do it, whereas I am sure that at some point, when I was fourteen I probably played some two note per string lick, probably played it really fast, or a four, six or some even number of notes, probably played it really fast and clean, probably didn’t know why, and didn’t think enough to recognize it to stop and say, “Oh, I should do that”, focus on that type of thing. Whereas, a guy like Yngwie, by the time he was twenty one, he was writing albums and had built an entire style like this, so clearly he had reached that point, probably many years before that. Which is crazy to think. Probably by the time he was seventeen, his entire mechanical system was in place,   enough that by the time he was twenty one he had albums worth of material and he was touring with major bands and writing their material too. That is just mind boggling. 

D:  I haven’t seen too much of the Electromagnets, I’ve seen Eric (Johnson) play their tunes, but if you look at his very first Austin City Limits appearance, and I don’t know how long he had been playing then, I think he had been playing for awhile, it was like ’84, he was completely developed. 

T: Oh yeah. He was also older by the time we saw him on Austin City Limits. 

D: You’re right, the ’84 one, he was probably around 30ish or so (Eric was born August 1954). One comment about the Yngwie/Eric discussion. The thing that never occurred to me is to start a descending scale (going from the higher pitched to lower pitched strings) with a downstroke. It’s always been intuitive to me to lead in the direction that you were going.

T: You’re saying that if you were playing a scale that was descending you would likely start on an upstroke simply because it moves in that direction.

D: Even with the two note per string patterns. As soon as you released the Eric stuff, I was like, “Good”, because that’s the guy, if I want to model anybody, that’s the guy. 

T:  That’s not too far off. There’s some validity to that idea, even if it’s not a strictly logical solution. There are playing styles that share some similarity to that mindset, for example, when I interviewed Frank Gambale.  Frank is a two way pick-slanter, you can see it whenhe does any sort of swept arpeggio, the pick leans very heavily, and I think we always knew this. We always saw the great sweepers doing this, people like Jason Becker, it just wasn’t obvious that it also had something to do with alternate picking.  But it does, because not all of Frank’s playing is sweeping. 

There are many times, even in the context of a swept passage, in which he will switch strings using alternate picking, but Frank is always leaning the pick in the direction of his motion. Not so much that he’s choosing pick strokes that move in that direction, but the pick slant itself leans in the direction that he’s moving. The reason he does this is because, if you think about the Yngwie picking system, which is a one way pick-slanting system, the ascending side of the Yngwie strategy, where the pick is leaning downward, permits him to switch strings using picking in all cases, so in other words if he’s moving from a lower string to a higher string on a downstroke, then he can use sweeping to do that, so he doesn’t have to jump over the string. 

If it’s an upstroke, then he can do it just using alternate picking because that’s how downward pick-slanting works. If you flip that scenario upside down, you can do the exact same thing going the opposite direction. You can use upward pick-slanting when you use descending lines, and you will always be able to switch strings with picking, no matter the occurrence. If it’s an upstroke string change, then you’re going to use sweeping this time, and if it’s a downstroke string change, you’re going to use alternate picking. This is roughly the Gambale system. It’s a bi-directional Yngwie, if you want to think of it that way. That’s why you don’t hear legato in his system, he only plays lines where the picking is going to work out that way, but when I interviewed him, I made him play a line that was sort of backwards for him. Where I said, “play a descending pentatonic line, but start it on a downstroke”. He understands pick slanting, he doesn’t call it that, but he knows the movement. I asked him why he did this. “Why do you lean the pick that way?” He said “sometimes I want to sweep in that direction”, which is certainly one way of looking at it, but if you’re descending with upward pick slanting that lean helps you sweep in that direction. 

But I said, “do a pentatonic scale, but lean the pick down”. He goes “Aughh, why would you do that, it’s so awkward”. But he did it, and he did it perfectly. So, in other words, if you’re doing two notes per string alternate picking and you lean to downward pick slanting then you start each string on a downstroke, then you would go down/up and everything would work out fine like the Yngwie system and Eric Johnson. So he did it, he did it perfectly, and he goes “Aughhhh, who would do that? It’s weird” because now I’m having him lean down but play a descending line which is effectively like leaning down but moving up at the same time. There was no other way to do it, it’s the only way it works, but that’s not how he thinks. 

It’s fascinating, but the idea that the movement has to somehow flow with the melodic flow of the line is not all that farfetched, and in his case, it makes sense, it’s just leaving abunch of other possibilities on the table, like the entire Eric Johnson system, for one, simply wouldn’t work that way because it’s a one way picking system. So, if you want to do his stuff, the easiest way, really the only way, actually, is to use downward pick-slanting, because of all the sweeping also.  

D: Especially how fluid he is with the two note per string patterns, and I love how you stress that a lot of people avoid this distinct sound that you have available that definitely sounds different, and his use of pentatonics and you can’t tell if it’s major or minor, that’s a big part of it too.

T: Yep, yep, absolutely.  I think a lot of people can benefit from playing his style of lines, because it completely sidesteps the whole issue of playing really fast on a single string, which everybody is sort of obsessed with. You can tell from listening to him that there isn’t ever a point where he does that (laughs).

D:  Yeah, I don’t know of any Eric Johnson tremolo (fast picking on a single string) Eddie Van Halen type picking, he doesn’t do that at all. It never really occurred to me, but you’re right. 

T:  No, and nor does he play any sort of patterns that move around on a single string like a Django or an Yngwie. What he think he does is because there are so few ways to play what he plays, other than the way he does it, is it minimizes the opportunities for mistakes.  The whole idea of hand synchronization isn’t really a thing with him, because he isn’t just picking really fast with the right hand and trying to sync up the left hand, that’s not a challenge. It’s really just one movement, it’s like hitting a snare drum. There’s a downward component, and an upward component. 

There’s never a point where he’s just trying to move the hand really fast, where everything turns to mush. Which, of course, is like the classic bad guitar playing when you're first learning picking is this sloppiness of the hands not being synchronized, then trying to move that across the strings. All of this is baked into his strategy already. It’s already solved for you.  

D: You just turn up the gain, that’s all you need to do, and you’re all set…

T: Yeah (laughs)

D: …    When you want to pick fast and sloppy. Changing gears, back to you a little bit. How would you define what you do artistically? How would you define your art? You can make this as broad or as narrow as you want. 

T: I’m not sure I understand the question (laughing). 

D:  Looking at what you do. Obviously it’s creative, it’s multimedia, there are multiple elements that go into it. Let’s consider this from another angle. What are you hoping to achieve with the creative projects you’ve made? It could be “Cracking the Code”, it could be original music. What’s your goal as an artist, what are you trying to do?

T:  My initial response is, I don’t use the term artist, because it just seems highly pretentious (laughs).

D: We’ll give you a pass, this is how the question was asked.

T: Yeah, and I don’t mean to accuse you of accusing me of something…

D: (laughing)

T:  It’s just I’m very pragmatic about a lot of things, and so for me it’s like “Oh, here’s a problem I can solve, and it feels good to solve a problem, here’s a thing where some of my skills can be useful. So it’s exciting to do that, and it’s even more exciting to do that for a living if there’s a way we can make that fly.  So, ultimately, to be able to do this in any fashion and actually have this be a thing I get up every morning to do is very satisfying, just for that reason. 

I worked for a number of years in executive recruiting before this, that was fun for a lot of reasons, because it was tech oriented, and there’s always be a component of technology in the things I do. That was also another entrepreneurial situation in which I ran a company, and so all the other associated things, it wasn’t just doing recruiting and making placements and working with clients, it was also running the business, building the website, writing the software that we used internally, so all that stuff was fun. I enjoy doing that kind of thing, and I enjoy using as many of the things that I do at any given moment, in any given undertaking, a certainly this stuff here probably hits on more of them than anything I’ve done before, in the sense that, every single skill that I have - technical, creative, or otherwise is getting utilized here. 

Even the business side of things is not going to waste either, being able to take a meeting or send an email, that’s currency in the digital era in the modern business world. I spent a lot of time doing that and building relationships, and I know how all that stuff works, and now I’m doing it in a slightly different arena. I like what we’re doing only because everybody likes to have a purpose. I can get up in the morning and feel like we’re doing something that makes the world a little bit better place, even as much as I enjoy the subject matter itself and just simply doing it on a physical level. I don’t know if that answers the question.

D: No, that’s perfect. Whether or not you use the term art, it is art, you could have just done a video on Youtube and said, “look, I did this high frame rate video analysis” and just distilled it down. It probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective. You could have taken the easy way out. You’ve put it in a package, like you said, that’s using all of your skills and knowledge. Your putting it in a format, that even though it’s highly technical in some senses, and granted, guitarists love to get into the weeds on stuff, butit’s in a format that even a non guitarist or non musician would enjoy watching it. 

Another question - What’s your educational background?

T:  I was an Italian major at Yale, and there was no particular intent there to do anything explicitly academic, it was just, I like languages, and the base skills are kind of in in the musical/linguistic arena. That was stuff I enjoyed doing. A lot of people look at language class and go “Oh, God”, that switch is just not turned on in their brain. Conjugating verbs is like, they live in fear of doing it like fear of long division or something. But for me it was always easy and fun. Italian was the main game, but I also did Spanish and German also. The language element is sort of conceptually related to the musical element. “Cracking the Code” as a project actually started in school, I did this as an independent study. While I was there I actually wrote the manuscript that basically would be covered, all the techniques, pretty much up to what we’ve seen in the show. That whole downward pick slanting thing was something I discovered in school and it thought “This is my area of expertise, I should do something with this”. 

Of course, the first stab at that was as overwrought as the show currently is, except in print form. It was just pages and pages of Dante allusions, psychology concepts, and I still have the dot-matrix printout in my house somewhere. There was actually I guy that I worked with who was a grad student at the time, Andrew Leonard, who is a fantastic guitar player himself, and he was a little bit older than me, and was like a 70s fusion fan who then went on to play classical guitar, and he was in the classical guitar program at Yale at the time, so he was actually my advisor for this independent study that I had cooked up. He ran the guitar program at, I want to say, a school in North Carolina, and he’s in Massachusetts now, I forget where, he teaches. But he’s a serious, hardcore classical guitar player and you can see some really unbelievable clips of him on youtube playing things like Koyunbaba, a really impressive, fiery sounding Spanish classical piece. He got in touch recently, he found the website and said “I had no idea you were still doing this”.  Turns out someone who watches the show was one of his students in North Carolina. So the circle is now complete.

D: The apprentice has become the master…

T: Not really…

D: I know, just finishing the quote. 

T: He’s a hardcore academic in guitar, which it’s cool to see that those worlds overlap. 

D:  Your love of language, is that something you had growing up, you know, family members, how did you get exposed, or how did you get into language?

T:  I think that’s another thing where the parental influence was like, “We’re going to have our kid learn another language”, because that’s a valuable skill to have. I give my parents a lot of credit for that. They gave me Italian lessons when I was young, only enough to do like the colors and the numbers. I remember we’d have a guy who came to the house who taught me how to say “Man, Woman, Superman, Spiderman” and all this stuff (laughs).  But that was enough that, if you give a kid any indication that a thing is doable, then I think the reverberations of that are such that the enterprise seems very approachable, and not so scary.

Later on, New York State Public Schools actually have a great language program, well they did, I don’t know if they still do. Language was mandatory throughout high school and in junior high you take 10 weeks of four languages, and then you pick which one you want to specialize in. When I was in seventh grade we did Spanish, German, Italian, and French. Once you hit eighth grade, you pick one of those and that becomes your language class through like 10th or 11th grade. So I picked Italian because that’s what I had previous experience with as a kid and I would say New York State Public School actually taught me to speak Italian, which is kind of amazing. I think it could have been done better, but the fact that it was done at all is kind of amazing. Because Americans are sort of famous for not being very aware of how people speak in other parts of the world. 

D: Yeah, we all think English is the language everyone should be speaking. So you literally had 10 weeks of exposure (to four languages)? That’s so crazy. 

T: This is a New York state thing, I don’t know if they do it in other states. 

D: Well, it may be in other states, but in Texas it’s like, “Well, if you want, you can try a foreign language, but it’s up to you, maybe try Spanish?”

T: Exactly, well, we had a program, I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but in New York State there’s a Regent’s Board that decides all the things that you’re supposed to study in high school. There’s a track that you follow, that’s the high end of the public school track where you get a Regent’s diploma, and I believe at the time, California was the only other state that had this. I have nothing but positive things to say about that. It’s kind of a common core concept, which I think has come under fire, for a lot of reasons which are probably specific to the teaching industry that I don’t really know about. But the idea that there’s this sort of Hogwarts type curriculum you have to master was a cool concept. I remember, Regents is in all these different subjects, you take language, earth science, bio, chem, physics, english, and then all the math, every year was a different level of math. Regents level math wasn’t anything super fancy but you got up to serious trigonometry right up to knocking on the door of calculus. Had I remembered everything I was taught in high school, I would be like the most knowledgeable guy on the block outside of people who are academic mathematicians (laughs), not that that’s saying much, but …

D: You’d be great on Jeopardy…

T: Yeah, I’d be Jeopardy champion and I’m a big fan of a certain amount of standardization because I know once I got to college and they said, “Here, do whatever you want”, then I did whatever I wanted which meant not doing anything hard anymore and just doing that stuff that was easy and/or fun. Maybe I’m not the right personality for that, maybe I need a little more boot camp. But I think there are certain people who take to that, people who are academics, who are going to dive deep into this particular subject, but for me I felt like it was a less focused experience that wasn’t the Hogwarts kind of training camp experience that I liked about high school.  

D: Do you remember any really high point success or failures that you had, maybe moreso in music or in art, but creative pursuits in general? Do you remember any successes or failures that kind of changed what you did, or shaped how you developed?

T:  In the show we’ve tried to portray a certain amount of these little victories, like using the SK-1 (this alludes to his discovery of using a very early and rudimentary sampling keyboard to grab a small section of audio and slowing it down so he could learn it on piano or guitar).  If anything, I think those things were probably the most important because any one bit of information you could get your hands on back in the day could be incredibly valuable in terms of understanding work in the bigger picture, because again, information was just not easy to come by. 

We had this once scene in the show that I really wanted to put in that I had to explain to the guys that work with me why this was a big deal, where all the metal guys are in the record store reading the tablature books, and trying to memorize the sheet music. I used to do that, I would go into like Sam Goody in the back, in the rack where they had all the rock songs written out, and I would try and memorize as much of the music, like these Ratt easy piano song books. 

D: And they’re so accurate, by the way. I’ve got my Rush “Moving Pictures” sheet music book from 1981 over here somewhere, and it’s darn accurate, I can tell you.

T:  Oh yeah, I know.  I had the Van Halen I and II sheet music books at home, and there was no tab, it was only staff notation. Actually, I’ve gone back and looked at it and some of it was pretty accurate. It was always hit or miss, like you said, you never knew what you were going to get. Of course there were no tabs, so you didn’t really know how the hell any of this was supposed to be arranged. So having one moment, where you could figure out how something actually worked, on piano that was typically some kind of chord progression where you would go “I can do the flat 7 dominant 9th thing” and that’s like the Layla chord progression and now you go back to your tonic after that, and that was like one extra arrow in your quiver that you then could use and understand and write a song with. 

D: When you were learning piano back then, by ear, were you slowing it down, just trying to keep up with the music, or did you get it on sheet music and then develop your ear, how did that progress?

T: No, it was all just chord progressions. You learned how to listen to that, usually by just following the bass, ultimately. For me, the piano journey is so different than the guitar journey because you don’t have to worry about the technical as much. You’re not concerned with playing the notes, because they’re there. There’s only one middle C, you just push the button. Whereas on guitar…

D: That’s true, you usually have five choices, at least.

T: Oh yeah, five times five times however many notes are in the phrase and then it quickly becomes unmanageable. So, someone like Yngwie, of course we knew what the notes in the arpeggio were, that wasn’t the hard part. We just didn’t know, or I didn’t know where they were being played and certainly not how he could be possibly be picking them at that speed. 

D: Yeah, what’s he doing with is right hand?

T:  I didn’t know what sweeping was. None of that’s present on piano, so piano guys will sit around and it’s all about chord progressions, just finding cool progressions and ways to play leads over them. In pop music in particular, it’s just, you very quickly realize it’s this very highly reusable system of a very small number of chord progressions that are different from another, and you’re always looking for new ones. So anything that’s outside, or moves out of key suddenly becomes interesting, like that Layla chord progression where, that cool chord they hit, it’s in the piano breakdown in Layla, which is in D, and then there’s a C9 right before it goes back to D and you’re like “Ooh”!  what’s that, how do you play that chord and have it make any sense at all. 

D:  When you were taking your piano lessons, were you learning more of the advance chord forms, or did you figure that out?

T:  No, those were the little victories. They taught me what a seventh chord was. As soon as I knew that , I was like, “Oh, that’s that thing that you’re hearing everywhere, and then all the sudden that unlocked like a thousand things. This one teacher I had was the guy who ran the music school in my town, and he was a real working musician from the club days in the 40’s and 50’s and he played swing tunes on piano, keyboards in bands. He taught me one or two of these jazz style kind of comping chord progressions, that alone, that was so much information there because I would have never figured out from listening to a rock or a pop song. Right away that unlocked a thousand possibilities.  The vast majority of technical things I’ve learned, I learned from a tiny amount of technical stuff. This four hour volcano seminar (on Yngwie Malmsteen) we did, is one lick. Basically all these techniques I learned from dissecting this one 5 second lick from this instructional video. You can pull from this almost the entirety of his picking technique.

D:  You talk about it, I don’t know if you use this phrase, but you see it in so many disciplines, “the chunking” - it’s like the guys who can memorize the 400 digit numbers, it’s all chunking, it’s pattern recognition. 

T:  Oh yeah, any of these breakthroughs, sometimes it’s these very specific and small breakthroughs that just help you understand a whole lot of other stuff. Like I said, back in the day, any little nugget you could discover unlocked a whole new dimension of possibility. 

D: You allude to the fact, that you had the Yngwie stuff down for a long time. When did you start playing guitar?

T: Probably like seventh grade, I think it was the summer between seventh and eighth grade.

D: When did you get to the point, because you’re ridiculous now (ridiculously advanced at guitar, check out the link to his videos/page), when did you get to the point where you were like, “I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’m pretty satisfied”, because you’ve had Yngwie down now for what, ten years or longer?

T: Oh, twenty.  It’s in the show, the whole pop tarts thing, that’s real. That was exactly how it happened. I had no picking skills before that, that I could rely on, and that day, instantly from that point on, all the down pick-slanting stuff was done. It was maybe over the course of the next few months or so, it just sort of got baked in. At that point, and that’s not all alternate picking, it’s just in the Yngwie and Eric Johnson styles. Those were the guys I was listening to. Once I made that realization that it was the pick-slanting and switching strings after upstrokes, it was instantaneous. I could play it that day. Like minutes later, it was done.

D: That’s obviously a huge success.

T: Oh yeah, because precisely like many of us, I had the catalyst.

D:  How long had you been playing when the pop tarts event occurred?

T:  Like five or six years, but from like age fourteen to twenty, a very formative period when you don’t have anything else to do but sit in your room (laughs)

D: What was your daily schedule like, did you have an average amount of time you spent practicing?

T: Oh no, I was never a practicer. I was more like, just turning on “Unchained” (Van Halen song) really loud and just playing stuff. I had no patience for practicing, because it never worked. Now I’m a practicer, because now there’s a system you can follow that actually works. I’ve tried practicing and it never produced results. I’ve gotten better results from just kind of screwing around, not really paying any attention at all. But I wasn’t really a great player, I was a better piano player by a long shot, and a better songwriter. I could do your standard 80’s pentatonic, Eddie Van Halen pentatonic licks and some tapping, and that’s about it. We wrote all kind of funny songs, like this song “Food Town” we talk about in the show which was like a Beastie Boys/Weird Al kind of song about supermarkets. It was just a silly thing we used to do in my bedroom with the Casio sampling keyboards, all my friends would bring over their keyboards and drum machines and we would just do this kind of electronic rock guitar kind of thing. That was all kind of fun and games. In terms of the hardcore technique that your average kid has now just from watching Youtube, I was nowhere near that but I had spent enough years building up just basic things like hand speed and general music knowledge that when that pop tarts thing happened, it immediately explained why I had been having all these troubles trying to do picking, up until that point. 

I think from that point, I was like a sophomore in college, so from about age twenty until approximately 30 or 31 I didn’t have the three note per string dynamic down. I just figured I was hearing it wrong, or there was some kind of catch. I didn’t have video, really. You couldn’t see what Steve Vai was doing. A good portion of what he does is in fact downward pick-slanting with sweeping, exactly the same way that Yngwie and Randy Rhoads do it. Of course not everything he does works that way, but so much of it did that I could sort of ignore the others as flukes. I didn’t own “Intense Rock” (Paul Gilbert), I never even watched it, so I didn’t even know that pure three note per string alternate picking was possible. It was just not a skill that I had, and it’s not a skill that Yngwie has, either, actually. So for ten years, that’s the only way I played and it just became second nature. It was with the Batio (Michael Angelo Batio) tape “Speed Kills” that I figured that out. That would be another success.

D:  Do you play any other instruments besides guitar and keys?

T: I’m a passable studio drummer, only to the extent that I need to record patterns and parts. I probably don’t have enough drumming chops to play in a band and just be the drummer.

D:  Is that something you did so you could write, basically?

T: Yeah, and I did a very brief, like one year, in marching band in high school, just enough to know what the issues were, but not to get any good at it. We all wanted to play drums, and we had drum machines and we were always trying to fake drums and get good drum sounds. That was always the mark of your recording skills, as a kid with the four track cassette, because you couldn’t mike up a drum set in your house, really.  So well used drum machines, the better keyboards had the better drum sounds. The Casio SK1 drum sounds were almost laughably terrible, they sounded like a metronome, a little blippy,  plastic noise. But then my friend got some advanced Yamaha thing and it had this incredible sampled drum sound, and we were blown away, it sounded like Trent Reznor to us, we were like “Oh My God”.  So drums were always a thing, and as soon as I had the space and the time, one of the first things I did was to go out and get a drum set. 

I did a little banjo in high school, that was another thing I sort of figured out, like Scruggs (Earl Scruggs) style bluegrass banjo, and harmonica was another thing I figured out, I’m not that great at them but I had a little insight. 

D: I’m sure you’ve experienced that with each new instrument, the learning process is accelerated because you’ve learned all these other instruments, and definitely for string instruments you’re going to have some crossover. 

T: Right, it is. The insight with the banjo is because there’s a thumb string which is an octave higher and that fast sound we all associate with, that Scruggs sound, this rolling and very complicated, sort of Baroque sound, turns it is just an artifact of having the damn thing tuned right, which I never knew how to tune a banjo, I had one, and you tune it right and all of the sudden there’s all these very basic rolling patterns become possible with very little effort and that’s the sound, as soon as I realized that, it was like every banjo song I had ever heard. 

Harmonica, there’s a trick to that as well, playing blues harmonica, you play the harmonica a 5th above the key that you buy it in, and all of the sudden all those cool bending sounds become possible.

D:  You realize that you have a fairly unique dichotomy in that you’re very analytical and creative, you know, the whole right brain/left brain thing, if you subscribe to that. That’s what I think is so great about the whole project is that you have that analytical mind that typically doesn’t exist in guitar circles, at least not to that extent, as you said, you’re bringing all your skills to bear in this project. 

(We had already run over an hour at this point, so I asked Troy for one more question).

D: If you could give your 18 year old self any advice, what would it be?

T: Lose the mullet. 

D: (laughing) That’s always good advice, at any age. 

T:  It’s the hair really, because I’m from Long Island. It’s not like “Back to the Future 2”, well that, maybe “Buy some Apple” (stock).  

D: There you go, fine. Nothing in the path of your creative life that you would steer differently or accelerate? Granted, this is kind of a time travel question, so the Apple stock thing is not necessarily an unfair answer. 

T:  I always think about that, and I think we all have because we grew up in the era of Back to the Future, and definitely with me it’s “No more hair blower” because you’re just frying your roots and it looks terrible. And do something besides buying the Camaro because it was a complete waste of money, I should have just bought some Cisco or Microsoft or something, and then I could have bought all the Camaros I wanted.

D: But you have the memories.

T: I have the memories of the Camaro, yes, so I can’t really complain. 

D: In the process of this experience and your exposure, have had any starstruck moments? Anybody that you met, and thought “Holy crap, I’m talking to so and so”?

T: Not really, I haven’t really met that many famous people. But I may be past the age of starstruckedness, at this point, or maybe it’s my personality. If I met Eddie Van Halen or Billy Joel I don’t even know if I would have that reaction, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see when that actually comes to pass. 

D: You’ve definitely met some ridiculous people, at least from my standpoint. Looking at your blog, and seeing that you had actually talked to Tommy (Emmanuel) I was like, “Oh hell yeah!”.  Do you have any plans with the Tommy stuff? It looked like you had filmed him. 

T: Oh yeah, that stuff was all supposed to be part of season three of the show where we’re getting to the live interviews, at this point I can’t even look that far down the road. We realize that people wanted to see some of this material, so we started editing some of those interviews into these little packs of downloadable licks with slow motion and tablature. But they’re super time consuming to edit and I don’t know how really interested people are in seeing that stuff. I know a few people are very interested in seeing certain players they like, but it’s not clear, it’s not like we sell tons of them. 

D: Yeah, commercially viable or not.

T:  Well, yeah. They’re very useful for me, as things that we can incorporate into the lectures and other things. “Here’s a clip of so and so doing this lick which you can now look at”  The Batio stuff in particular, we made a lot of use of lately in this antigravity seminar, it’s great to have such an indisputable reference material.  The things that he’s doing that I’m saying that he does, that we look at in historical footage is much more evident in this super intimate close up footage that I have. So that’s great, and I’d love to do more of the Tommy stuff, he was great to work with. His managers were super nice and he’s a very nice guy himself, so I would love to do something with that, it’s just a matter of time and manpower. 

D: Oh sure, no pressure. Just curious. Any parting thoughts, anything you want me to know or put into the interview?

T:  I think it’s more about what you wanted to know and you’ve gotten a pretty well rounded picture of where all these skills come from and how I got here, which is interesting. I feel a little self indulgent (laughs) being able to recite all this stuff, I’m not sure I’m a person of enough marked importance to be having this conversation, but if this could be helpful to other people doing this kind of work, fantastic. 

D: I think it’s absolutely helpful, and think what’s great about you, is that you’ve brought all these skills to bear, and you’ve created something unique. You really have. Whether or not everybody wants to know about alternate picking and wants to know some of these techniques, who cares?  It’s culturally very significant. All the guys, the Eric Johnsons, the Eddie Van Halens, whether or not everybody needs to know their technique, their techniques have allowed them to make music that has touched millions and millions of people, so to me it’s very significant. 

 

Extra special thanks and sincere gratitude to Troy Grady for sharing his very precious time and for being such a thoughtful, literate and open interview subject. Double extra special thanks for his efforts in creating and sharing “Cracking the Code”, which is legitimately a huge milestone in understanding the techniques of the guitar greats that have escaped most mere mortals who pick up a guitar and dream big. 

Busy Busy Busyerington...

It's almost surprising I have found a few minutes to quickly update the blog.  It's been a very busy couple of months since I posted last. Between work, school and trying to practice I've been essentially moving non stop from wake until sleep every day. Ironically, the days I thought I would still get some good practice time (weekend) are often the days I don't find any time to practice. I've been saving my weekly assignments that are project based until the weekend, and these end up eating up big chunks of the day. My best practice days have ended up being Mon-Thu. I haven't been able to maintain my previous 3 hours a day by any stretch. 2.5 hours is a great day because it generally means I got 30 minutes on everything. 

I've had a few weeks where the scope of the work just overwhelmed my practice schedule in general. That combined with a few fix up projects in my studio (mainly installing acoustic treatment) wiped out a few weekends and several weekdays as well. Aeyong has been gone to Korea the last five weeks, so taking care of all the household stuff has really kept me moving at full speed. She comes home tomorrow, and it will be great to have her back. I essentially have 2 weeks left this semester and then the next day we start the spring semester. 

A big development has been the creation of the Music Composition for Film, Television, and Games degree track and I'm orienting towards pursuit of a dual degree with that and production. I will be busier than the proverbial one legged man in an ass kicking contest for the next four years. All that being said, the past two months have been fantastic for my development as a musician. I finally shared my original work with friends and classmates, as well as a brief cover of a Coldplay tune "Amsterdam" that featured me singing and playing all the instruments. 

I couldn't foresee a time when I was going to be ready to do that before, and now I've done it and it was no big deal at all. I've only had a few friends take the time to listen to it, but I've gotten positive feedback from all of them including one who I've respected for years as a musician. It's a small validation, but a really big deal for me. I've known I had something, but I always wondered if it would be enough for others to consider it worthy of the effort. Now I know that it is. Enough laurel resting, I've got work to do. 

2015 arrives

This year and the three to follow promise to be a very challenging but ultimately rewarding period of time in my development as a musician. The week after next I begin my Bachelor of Professional Studies in Music Production through Berklee Online. I have decided to take an optimistically large first bite by enrolling in five classes.

If my personal and professional life are still intact at the end of the semester I will probably continue this policy depending on whether I deplete my GI Bill authorizations or not. The way the VA calculates annual limits is a bit nebulous. Fortunately there doesn't appear to be a semester limit so if I'm running low on funds I can either take fewer classes in the other semesters or just pay the difference.

It's hard to predict what aspects will be the most challenging. Because I've been interested and have read up on many of these topics over the years I don't worry as much about the comprehension of the material so much as the amount of actual coursework. This combined with working full time could mean I'm back in the PA school mode of constant study/homework in my non work waking hours. If it's necessary then that's what I'll do. 

I tried to select a mixture of technical and artistic courses so I'm not too bogged down in one type of thinking. I decided to take the Math for Musicians course and get it out of the way. I missed the testing out by one question, although I would have missed more if it wasn't multiple choice. I haven't had Algebra, Geometry or most of what was on that test since the early 80's. I have my doubts about the applicability of everything in that course, but I know there will be some benefit when it comes to understanding electrical and acoustic theory in later courses. Not to mention that basic sound theory is based on math in large part (frequencies, octaves, etc.). 

Not that I post frequently to begin with, but I wonder if will have enough free time to post much going forward. Although the amount of post worthy material is likely to increase exponentially in this program.

Drumming Goals

Jared Falk of Drumeo.com fame had a video about effective practice. One of the key elements was creating a list of 5 medium range (1 week to 3 months) goals for our drumming and then commit to it by announcing it on social media. Since this is technically social media, I'm committing to it here. No one in the world at large besides Aeyong and my dogs knows I'm a "drummer" now, and I'm not quite ready to announce that yet. My preference to announce that is after I'm able to record a video of me playing a complete song of at least intermediate difficulty. My medium range goals for the next 3 months would be

1. Get my 32nd note playing up to 80 BPM (I'm struggling at 60, so this is a fairly lofty goal).

2. Get my 16th note triplets up to 80 bpm (if I can do the 32nd note, I should be able to do this as well, I'm currently at 70-75 right now).

3. Finish learning "When the Levee Breaks" - I'm pretty close to locking down the basic beat, but I will have to work hard on the fills, especially the fast ones near the end, this may be too lofty. It will probably take years before anyone thinks I'm starting to sound like Bonham (not that anyone truly can sound like him). 

4. Learn Smells Like Teen Spirit (not necessarily at full speed, but who knows? I haven't really started learning it yet, only the triplet opening so far).

5. Make progress on some Neil Peart part, preferably YYZ or Xanadu. I haven't really started on anything by him yet, but one of my "milestone" goals as a musician is to be able to perform all 3 parts from a Rush song like YYZ and record a video of me doing it. In a way this is just a means of measuring progress for my goals, but it will also hopefully provide a good example of my level of proficiency when trying out for bands or at least demonstrating to potential recording clients that I am competent musically. 

NOTE: He wants them ranked in order of difficulty - 1 is probably the most difficult since it's very specific, 3. is also specific and most likely fairly difficult, 2, 4&5 would be more difficult if I had a specific benchmark with either one, but I just want to work on these (as long range playing goals) and I don't have a real specific goal yet since I have to actually start working on them. I may post a specific BMP or % of full speed goal for 3 months after I've practice them enough to know where I stand. 

Bloggery bloggington

Time for another infrequent update. What's happened since last I committed electrons to this dark, forgotten corner of the internet?  Of most significance is that I have applied for the Berklee College of Music (Online) Bachelor of Music Production degree, with an anticipated start date of January 2015. I'm not sure why I didn't previously make the connection between this course and my still valid (but eventually expiring) GI Bill benefits. I had looked at individual courses within Berklee and some other online colleges, but for whatever reason I didn't realize that there was actually a Bachelor's program in a Music related field that I was actually interested in that would be eligible for the GI Bill.

I won't know if I'm accepted until next month, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Firstly, since I have a reliable means of paying for the degree, and secondly, my academic records while not perfect, (I made a couple of Bs in PA school) are pretty competitive (3.8 cumulative GPA with two master's degrees).  What I don't have is any significant professional or academic music experience, but I'm hoping that since there aren't any specific prerequisites in those areas, that I will make up for in my enthusiasm for music. In my personal statement I related my lifelong love of music, my rekindled musicianship of 10+ years, my multi-instrumentalism and love for all things music production related. 

The course curriculum reads like all of my online self learning activities for the past 10 years. Looking through the entire course requirements and syllabi, I was amazed at how every course was something I was either interested in learning, or something I actually had already studied on my own. My dream scenario would be to channel this knowledge into a musical occupation that could pay the bills, but that isn't the only end goal. I know that regardless of whether I continue to need to work full or part time in healthcare, that the knowledge and experience I gain from this course will make me a better musician and I can't put a price on how valuable that is for me. 

My realistic goal is to continue improving my home studio as much as possible (without making structural changes to our current home), and eventually buying a home on a one acre lot and building a music studio from the ground up. I hope that with time and experience I can begin to attract clients and gain work through word of mouth and advertising. This is a path that some full time (and highly regarded) professional studio owners have followed. The other nice thing about owning/running a studio is that age isn't the limiting factor that it may be for musical artists that are just starting out. I will continue to be a musician, and hope that this knowledge and experience with facilitate opening new doors for me in that area as well. I just never get tired or bored with music at large. I may briefly run out of steam when I've been practicing a certain instrument, but that's easily remedied by picking up a different one, or studying an aspect of production, etc. 

It's hard to express how exciting these possibilities are for me. It's also nice to at least consider that it may be possible to earn a living equivalent to our current standard of living. Success as a musical artist can be a much more fickle target. I know plenty of world class artists who have their dedicated fan base but are otherwise ignored by the public at large. Success in music is often not directly correlated to talent and hard work (a small caveat in that the really hard working musicians who understand that they must do more than just write/record songs, often find a way to succeed through touring, videos & other merchandising).  

The true "If I win the lottery" (in a music sense) would be to build up a successful studio/operation as well as create my own music that might actually garner enough interest to release albums and even tour, if only on a small, regional level. Neither one of these is necessary for me to be happy in music, because I'm already there and I'm not making a penny doing it (quite the contrary, I spend quite a few pennies doing it). The greatest satisfaction would be in having the freedom to only need to "work" in music, and to have my own business that I can dictate the schedule, etc. I am confident that if I'm accepted to Berklee that I will be able to eventually build a free standing professional (albeit, not in the league of the Power Station or equivalent) studio and with the knowledge and experience gained in school I'll be able to record my own as well as others music in the best possible format. Maybe it will only be on nights/weekends when I have the time away from my regular job or maybe it will grow to a full time operation. I'm on board for the long haul either way...

Cards & letters...

from people I don't even know. You know the words. Not literally per se, but I've gotten several offers on bandmix to join various bands, usually of the cover variety. Looking at the details of these offers has made me realize a few things. First, I needed to emphasize that I'm a guitar player with minimal keyboard and bass skills. It shouldn't surprise me, but stating you can play keys and bass in your profile means you'll get a lot more offers for those roles than guitar. Guitar players grown on trees, apparently. The other realization is that I still haven't worked at learning a set of cover tunes likely to be in any cover bands set list. I get involved in trying to learn songs by guitarists I like (Eric J, Tommy E, etc.) which are not normally on the cover band set list. I think I would enjoy a stint in a cover band, if only to play with other musicians and in front of people, if only for a brief period of time. But until I have a fairly robust personal song list, I don't feel ready to accept an offer since I don't know how many songs and in what time period I might have to learn them to get ready for a band gig. So I'm going to shift my practicing around a bit and work on a few of the typically most requested tunes. I'll probably start with "Don't Stop Believin", "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Sweet Child o' Mine".  I already know parts of those tunes, but I've never committed to learning the whole thing. Once I have them under my fingers, I'll make a vid for youtube & bandmix to post. I still want to have about 10-15 songs on my youtube channel to show the variety of things I can play as well as covering a variety of styles. Those three should be a good start. 

Zee latest...

Got back to work this week after a very nice extended Thanksgiving holiday. We spent T-Day with le fam at my sister Debbie's house. All in all a decent day. The Cowboys found a way to lose to the skins at home on T-Day, which is apropos of the last 15 years. The highlight of the break was seeing Rush on their Clockwork Angels tour at AA center in Dallas. We went for the VIP tix and weren't disappointed. We got 3rd row center just a few seats off center of mass for Neil's drum kit, but with a perfect view regardless. Luckily we had a short lady in front of us, so Aeyong had an unobstructed view which is a rarity on the floor for her. It was a great show with an 80's centric set list which I initially wasn't thrilled about but I eventually warmed up to the idea and it was really nice hearing some of those tunes for the first time in a long time. It was about 27 years ago when I saw Rush at Reunion Arena for their Power Windows tour and a few of those tunes hadn't been played since that tour. Even better, they filmed this tour's DVD in Dallas & Phoenix (and the rumor is that it will be mostly Dallas) so we'll have a video record of the show to enjoy in the future. I've only had that experience once before, at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas and out of that whole video I probably only attended 50% of those shows in person. There's a chance we may even be able to spot ourselves in the crowd shots since we were that close, so we're looking forward to that as well, although I'm not holding my breath.

We're trying to move forward on the housing front. We've had a few back & forths with a local custom home builder and they are quoting a bit high for our preference at this point. Hopefully we can talk them down to our range and get the house we want. If so, we may be moving in to a new home this summer. Time will tell. There's still a bit of uncertainty about the housing market and mortgage rates. Everything points to a rebound (it's already happening essentially) and that means housing costs and mortgage rates will rise. The big uncertainty revolves around the "fiscal cliff" looming for our government and the good chance that tax rates will increase across the board. If this happens I expect home sales to flatten out and we may be better off waiting to see if the prices will drop again. All that being said, if this builder will respond to our requests and give us our minimums within our price range, we'll probably press Go.

I think since the last post I moved some things around in the music room. I decided to bring the roland piano back onto the desk so I would be more inclined to play it and to give me access to a full 88 key midi instrument as well for recording. I also started practicing bass again. I had focused on acoustic for several weeks in preparation for my grandmother's memorial service back in August and I hadn't ever gotten back to my regular schedule of piano in the morning and then bass for about 30 min to start off my evening practice session. I'm still trying to work on the songs I was putting together for my "Guitar Hero" (not the game) project. That is a slow process since I'm exploring a few songs that involve relatively new techniques for me. Just "Rock Around The Clock" alone is quite the challenge. It's a very fast, clean solo and there's nothing to hide behind when you play it. You either play it right or it's obvious if you don't. Similar to many acoustic songs in that respect.

There's been such a large amount of transition in my practice area, computers, gear and practice time in the recent past that I'm just now starting to feel as if I can settle into a regular schedule again and start prioritizing my practice schedule. It's funny how that although you don't practice something you may still notice improvement. I think our nervous system takes longer to respond to our demands and it doesn't necessarily stop working just because we stop. I have noticed on various occasions in the past that if I have had a break in practicing an instrument that when I return to it I will sometimes find certain things slightly easier to play than before. I think when you practice something every day that if you are making progress it's so slow that it doesn't seem to be happening, but I believe even when you stop practicing for awhile your body is still trying to adapt to the demands you placed on it before, so in a sense, progress is still being made.

Gig Report

I'm trying to think of a way that could sound more pretentious, but I think I nailed it right there. For lack of a better term, I played my first gig (ever) as a musician this past Saturday. It was for a sitting room only crowd of 15 family, friends, and general well wishers. I played acoustic guitar while my sister Debbie sang Amazing Grace, followed by my niece Heather on Over the Rainbow and finally with How Great Thou Art (Carrie Underwood version) with Debbie on lead vocals and Heather singing harmony.

I played modified versions of the Tommy Emmanuel arrangements of AG and OTR. It was a memorial service for our grandmother Nonie who passed away last month at the age of 85. It went pretty well, there were no big mistakes and everyone seemed to appreciate the effort. Heather was temporarily overcome with emotion while singing OTR because she said made eye contact with our audience and they were all crying and that set her off. It made the moment more emotional and poignant. I studiously looked at the guitar and didn't look at audience. I don't know if I would have become overly emotional, but I could have easily lost track of where I was in the song.

I know I didn't play it as well as I would want, but it went okay and there were no glaring errors made. Somewhere in there I started to actually disconnect from the mechanics and feel the emotion of the songs. I can say that details are hard to recall, it was mostly a blur. I want to get out and perform again but I'm not sure if I want to pursue the solo acoustic path or electric guitar in a rock band path first. I want to do both, but I'm a little more inclined to rock right now. I need to keep working on my set list of known songs so I have something to offer any potential bands. I'm more inclined to play with a covers band, at least at first.

NGD!

If you have to ask, this is probably not the blog for you. Ok, ok, the fact that you are actually reading this means you're the other person who reads my blog and for that I'll make an exception. NGD is New Gear Day, my friend. Yes, it's capitalized since it's essentially a national holiday (so why the hell am I at work?). I shipped out my two most recent Ebay sales (Charvel San Dimas and Line 6 Variax Acoustic) yesterday, and their sale essentially netted me a new James Tyler Variax (with the newest generation of L6 variax modeling hardware) and about $100 cash. I technically lost money on the guitars themselves, but I don't mind depreciation in a guitar that's not being used anymore since it allows me to replace it with something I will use. I didn't lose too much on either guitar, and I actually exceeded the most recent average auction prices for both guitars which made me very happy. I actually lucked out because I thought I had put a Buy It Now price on both, but I forgot to do that and I ended up getting more than the Buy It Now amount I would have set.

The Charvel was a good guitar but with the Suhr Modern, I really wasn't going to use it anymore. The intent with all my instruments is for them to fulfill a role sonically, and if they're redundant, I'll probably replace them or sell them. With the addition of the JT variax, my arsenal is going to be pretty stable until I add a PRS SE Angelus acoustic when they hit the market later this year. After that, it will probably be several years before the next new guitar (famous last words). It's a good thing my wife doesn't read this blog, or she would use it as evidence against me.

The L6 acoustic was good for what it did in its time, but I have grown more picky when it comes to acoustic tone, and I was just rarely using it at all. It would have been good as a swiss army knife guitar live, but once I saw the newer capabilities of 2nd? generation variaxes and found out that they were actually James Tyler designed guitars that were regular electrics in addition to being variaxes, it was an easy decision to replace the L6 acoustic.

One of the great things about the JT is that it has four times the processing power of the previous generation and they have used that power to make the most common alternate tunings as well as improved models of a variety of electric and acoustic guitars available at the flip of a switch. These guitars can be played like straight electrics, straight models, or a mix. In a way, this will give me capabilities that I haven't had since I sold the Brian Moore several years ago. To wit: dual guitar tones concurrently. I'm not sure how easy it will be (pretty easy I think), but it will be nice to be able to alternate quickly between electric and acoustic during the same song.

It's on the Fedexcellent express right now, hopefully it will be there when I get home tonight.

The Ides of March

and my guitar resumption anniversary. I started playing guitar (again) 8 years ago today after about a 15 year lapse since my early twenties. I've posted on the topic several times in previous blog entries. Suffice to say, it was one of the most important decisions I've ever made in my life. Probably only outranked by marrying Aeyong, joining the Army, and pursing college/PA school. Becoming a musician again (I've always remained a fan) filled a void in my life that I wasn't aware existed. Aeyong would say it created a void in our bank account, but ahem, that's another bag of picks.

It's strange how certain things can validate you internally moreso than other events that have more significance for the world at large. Of all my accomplishments in life, finally getting close to playing songs like Eruption or any number of Tommy Emmanuel pieces means more to me than just about anything. Maybe it's easy to say when I'm on the inside looking out, at least as far as my military and academic achievements. I don't know. But I feel like it wouldn't matter. I had such an early connection with music and I still vividly remember many musical events through my life. It's probably pathetic in the eyes of others (not that I care) that I'm still pursuing musical goals that were born 30+ years ago. But this is what charges my batteries and makes me happy.

In retrospect of the last 8 years, I've made significant progress and also gone through a large volume of gear changes. When I resumed playing, I could still play basic chords and I sort of remembered the blues/major scales. It seemed like I progressed very rapidly at first, and after a few months I started playing primarily acoustic. I made an important decision at the time to start learning songs that were several years of practice beyond my current ability. What I have learned over the years is that progress on guitar, or any instrument, is based on plateaus. Or at least it seems that way. Regular, focused practice of the correct things (usually that means your weaker points) will be rewarded with improvement, although it may not be apparent for a long time.

Before I started playing guitar again, I spent my leisure time playing golf, video games, watching tv, reading books. I still have those hobbies (not so much golf) but they have decreased in relation to the amount of time I spend playing. What I discovered with guitar, and later all the instruments I play (keys, bass) is that you get back what you put into it. If you work hard at improving, you will. It may be hard to measure progress at times, but if you're spending regular time with your instrument (in an effort to improve) you will get better. That's not really the case with video games, tv, movies, books. Yes, you can learn and grow from these types of media, but I mostly read and watch to escape, not to grow. I do read non fiction and classics fairly often, but I mostly just want to be entertained.

For me, the big picture improvements (learning to play Eruption, being able to improvise over chord changes effectively, writing, etc) are the more long term goals you have for playing, but I have discovered that the incremental improvements are a big part of ongoing satisfaction as well. In the course of learning more difficult songs, little sequences within the songs are often points of challenge. It can be a fast run, or a difficult chord stretch, etc. When you finally get to the point where you can just play a sequence like that smoothly without having to stop (even if it's not up to tempo yet) it's an amazing feeling.

I've discovered that after about 3000 hours of practice (that's my highly accurate scientific estimate) I actually enjoy the busy work of being a musician. I stole that phrase from Brandon Sanderson's description of why he chose writing over chemistry. He's a popular fantasy writer with several best sellers but he went to college as a chemistry major. He said he enjoyed the big picture concepts of chemistry, but he really got bogged down with the tedium of lab work. However, he never minded the busy work of writing which can be hours and hours of daily writing and rewriting for months or years before a publishable novel is finished.

I feel the same way about music and being a musician. The real payoff is when you learn a song the whole way through and can just play it from an emotional standpoint without focusing on the physical task. This is quickly possible for simple songs (3 chord Dylan tunes for example), but takes years of work for others. However, along the way you see incremental improvements in the parts that make up the whole, and I derive pleasure and fulfillment from that as well. If I didn't, I would have given up long ago.

I think the only important quality that separates an accomplished musician from a "failed" musician, is that they wanted it more so they never quit working at it. Obviously that probably applies to any hard task that takes a long time to complete. There are several books and other published works out there about innate talent in relation to hard work. I'm firmly in the hard work camp. The generally accepted amount of time required for one to become a virtuoso musician is about 10,000 hours. This was based on various longitudinal studies of professional musicians and the common separation between the university musicians who would go on to become renowned and/or highly successful musicians was that they practiced more often for a longer period of time than their peers.

The simplest way for me to describe the long lasting appeal of music and being a musician is that it's like a never ending well for me. I always find something new to enjoy, whether it's totally new or just a new realization or discovery about something I already was playing. I also have discovered that I kind of like that music is so hard at times. I think that's one of the reasons why it's so much more satisfying to accomplish things in music. For me to be able to play Eruption represents 30+ years of wishing I could play it, combined with several years of practice (not consistently and consecutively for Eruption in particular) to get to the point where it's achievable. Even if I never played it for anyone, it's still a very significant milestone for me as a player and fan. And there's no other way to get that feeling. I've gone to hundreds of concerts over the years, and we still go (we have 6 upcoming between April-August 2012) on a regular basis because we (mostly me) still experience a high at concerts that nothing else can replicate. But the feeling I get at a concert is different than the feeling of being able to play a song by my idols or one I've written myself. Not necessarily a superior feeling, but a different one that can't be replicated by any other means.

Demo Reel

For lack of a better term, a future project for me is assembling a guitar video to demonstrate my playing for bandmix and equivalent sites. There's a brilliant guitarist in Europe (Sweden or Norway I think) named Ketil Strand who has become somewhat of an Internet sensation, at least among guitar players. He posted a series of videos as a tribute to the history of guitar called "Evolution of Guitar" a few years back. He updated them after the release of the AxeFx and I think that's when I first saw the videos. Essentially he goes through the history of modern guitar starting with the earliest influences (modern era) like Charlie Christian, Django Rheinhardt, Chuck Berry, etc. He goes on through most of the influential rock guitarists like Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Johnson, SRV, and many others. He picks some of the more recognizable riffs/songs and breaks them down to small excerpts and runs them together. It's a brilliant highlight reel (mainly because he nails the tones and playing) that not only honors the guitar greats, but demonstrates his mastery of many different styles and tones.

I'm not as skilled or as comprehensive in my current repertoire (there's always the future) to pursue something of that magnitude, but I think the framework is a great way to demonstrate my ability and tastes to other musicians. Plus, I think it will be a good learning project for me as well as adding a few more tunes to the repertoire (word du jour).

I'm thinking I will at least include some Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Alex Lifeson, Steve Howe, Tommy Emmanuel, Andy Summers, and a few others. I'm thinking I'll approach the tunes in a similar manner to Ketil's in that I'll pick 3 or 4 signature tunes (that I can play) for a medley of each player. Jimmy Page - Rock & Roll, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog, Ten Years Gone; Eddie Van Halen - Eruption, You Really Got Me, Panama; Jimi Hendrix - Little Wing, Wind Cries Mary (need another); Alex Lifeson - Limelight, Spirit of Radio, (need to decide on a third); Steve Howe - Mood for a Day, Roundabout, Heart of the Sunrise (have to learn that); Tommy Emmanuel - Endless Road, Amazing Grace, Over the Rainbow; Andy Summers - Message in a Bottle, Roxanne, Every Breath You Take. There are several other bands/guitarists I want to add to that list, but I know that this is already going to be a massive undertaking and the truth is that I hesitate to actually post these excerpts until I can actually play the whole song at full speed. That caveat may add a year or more to the process. I'll probably start working on this soon, starting with the songs I can essentially nail right now.

My biggest challenge for this project, and for my playing in general is that last 5-10% of mastering a tune (which is actually closer to 90% of tune mastery, but that's another discussion) which takes the song from being recognizably close to the original (I'm not going for note for note accuracy, but an equivalent level of proficiency) to being as smooth and effortless as it was for the original artist. That's why Eruption has been taking so long for me. That, and the fact that I haven't ever really totally focused on only one song until I mastered it. That's probably what I should be doing, but at any given time I'm working on about 20 different songs on acoustic and electric as well as playing piano and now bass.

RPM

It's safe to predict that I won't complete the challenge this time around. I really have only completed (recorded) one song in the last month. That sounds really pathetic, but I must note that I have come up with riffs and chords for at least 10 if not more songs in this timeframe. The primary task for me now is to learn how to take a riff or idea and make a complete song with it. Probably like saying all you have to do to become a doctor is study hard and go to medical school. I had divided some of my time in learning my new bass and trying to prepare for the scheduled jam session with Chris by working on the songs we had agreed to play. I also realized that I just didn't know enough about Logic so I got back into watching the tutorial videos on macprovideo and so far I think I've watched about half of the level one videos (100+ out of 210) and in that process I've definitely learned a lot about the program.

I'm going to try and stick with my original 2012 goal of a new composition per month and a new song learnt by ear every month as well. I did okay for January, but February is coming to a close and I don't have either of these completed. I'll have to ensure I complete two of each by the end of March. Technically you could say I learned two new songs for the jam sessions (Hotel California and Slither) but I cheated and used tab because of the short time frame. I did okay with the Black Country Communion song "The Great Divide". I think I essentially know the whole song, I just have to develop my chops to be able to play the solo, and that will take several months to nail down since it's a pretty fast solo in parts. I'll pick a couple of more tunes to learn by ear, most likely something I know I can't get a good tab for. A Tommy Emmanuel song would be a good challenge, or for that matter I could try Eleanor Rigby by Pete Huttlinger (have to learn tremolo picking for that one, a completely new technique for me) or Harry Connick's version of Stardust for piano. Now that I think about it, those are probably the two songs I have jones'd the most for that don't have sheet music or tablature available. I won't necessarily nail those in a month either, but if I can get close to at least learning the actual music for both then I can practice the playing.

Musical developments

I've been practicing with the bass and I'm slowly adapting my fingers to it, the right hand being the bigger challenge. I could have made it much easier on myself by just using a pick, but my favorite players (not counting Chris Squire) primarily use fingers and I think it ultimately gives you more options. I've also noticed that it has given the added bonus of increased strength and dexterity for my piano playing. And I need all the help I can get.

I was supposed to jam with Chris yesterday but he had to postpone due to illness. Hopefully we can make our jam sessions a regular thing in the future. I've also gotten several contacts on Bandmix and I'm trying to decide whether to pursue those opportunities in the short term or to practice my stagecraft and gigging ability a bit longer. I'm leaning toward the latter since I haven't really focused on getting individual songs completely gig ready, as in I can play these songs standing up all the way through including solos as if I was playing a gig.

My goal is to go into any band or gigging situation fully prepared and in control of my playing and stagecraft. I know that's probably the musical equivalent of combat operation orders, since they are valid until first contact with the enemy. I'm not calling the audience the enemy, mind you, I just mean that I won't truly be prepared for live gigging until I actually do it and get that experience. That being said, I know the typical songs I want to be prepared to play will need some more work before I really throw my name out there as available to play.

Assessing Deficits

I find it important to occasionally take stock in my life. I do this by asking myself the question, "What's most important to me? What are the things I value the most and get the most long term satisfaction and fulfillment from?"

I feel very fortunate that the overall most important things in my life are well established, stable, loyal and unlikely to change. Those would be my wife Aeyoung and our dogs, Bridget, April and Arya. They are there every day for me and we'll always be there for each other. Hence, I don't have to really sweat the small stuff when it comes to them. I do make it a point to regularly remind them how important they are to me, but that's not the context of this post.

Once you get to the personal fulfillment level of Maslow's hierarchy, you probably need to attempt a look at yourself with a little wider lens and with consideration to the long term. Often we are so caught up in the little details of life that we lose focus on the future. Missing the forest for the trees to coin a phrase. I feel very lucky that I had two years during my Army career to pursue additional education in my field. While the knowledge was a bonus and has reaped rewards, the most important and longest lasting benefit was the amount of free time I suddenly had on my hands.

My only responsibility was to attend school for two years, so I found myself with considerable more free time that I initially filled up with just my typical recreational activities of golf, movies, reading, computer games and the equivalent. After a few months of this I had mentally reached a point where most of the static noise that tends to build up with day to day frustrations and issues that we all experience had essentially melted away.

I started to think more reflectively and internally and the one great epiphany I experienced was that I had given up one of the great loves of my life when I stopped playing guitar regularly nearly fifteen years before. It wasn't a conscious decision. I just gradually quit playing regularly, mostly because my time was more occupied and because I wasn't really making progress.

Truthfully, I had never really learned the importance and value of dedicated practice and study on an instrument. When I was a kid I think I just dreamed of being a rock star (always a guitarist) and didn't really appreciate how much work it would take to become a good if not great musician. I had friends who were very accomplished in their own rights, were members of bands, but I didn't make the connection of how much time they had dedicated to their instruments & art to reach the level of mastery they had achieved.

I took a few lessons here and there as well as buying some song books and once they became popular, tablature magazines. I learned enough guitar to be able to play three chord punk songs and albeit poorly, some basic scale patterns like the blues. I also learned very basic and sloppy versions of a few fingerstyle parts like Blackbird or the opening to Stairway. In one part of my mind I thought I was doing pretty well, and I would even have people tell me I was good. In retrospect, I think these people were just nice, positive people who wanted to say something uplifting.

I did benefit from developing a modicum of muscle memory for chords and basic scales, but I otherwise never really learned to play the guitar. I knew (and people had repeatedly told me) that I would only get better with practice, but I was either not mature enough or just had too many other areas of concern in my life that my rational mind and will never got together and agreed that work needed to be done. So, I put my guitar down.

I had owned an Ibanez strat style electric, an Ovation acoustic and a Peavey Bandit 65 solid state amp. I also had two pedals (Boss Super Overdrive and Stereo Chorus). When Aeyoung and I moved to Kentucky, we were tight on funds and I ended up pawning the Ibanez and the Amp/pedals for a little extra cash. I don't remember what we got for it, but it wasn't much. For some reason, I held on to the Ovation. I think somewhere inside I knew that letting that guitar go would be completely cutting off ties with the musician I had dreamed of becoming. So the Ovation sat in the closet. It followed us around the globe, occasionally (every few years) getting brought out of its case for a few nostalgic attempts at "Tangerine" or "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You". These attempts would add up to probably less than one hour of playing time over a 15 year period.

The ironic thing, is that I never stopped thinking like a guitar player. I would hear a song playing and immediately focus on the guitar part. I would mentally air guitar solos in my head while listening. While I was always a music fan and listened whenever I got the chance, the amount really increased with the advent of digital music players in the 2001 timeframe. It was probably partially a result of getting my first Ipod in 2003 and the subsequent increase in music listening that influenced my renewed desire to play music.

As 2003 drew to a close, I increasingly thought about guitars and music. I started to get back into buying guitar magazines and listening more to guitar oriented music and with the increase in the number and depth of websites, I was able to do more research and reading into the subject as well. I didn't realize what I was going to do overnight. Gradually as I read more (and had so much more information readily available compared to my teenage years) I started to feel the old spark of joy that I remembered from certain sentinel musical events from my childhood.

I still remember the first time I heard live music. They were the opening act for Donny & Marie at the Ohio State Fair and I was probably around 7 or 8 years old. We weren't there to see the band, my parents had just taken us to the fair that day. They were otherwise forgettable, but it was live amplified guitar, and it froze me in my tracks. I had always loved music from a young age. When I was 3 or 4, I used to insist that my parents play "Bye Bye, American Pie" anytime we got in the car. This was back in the days of analog AM/FM radios. I remember loving that song because it told a long story to music, and I just remember wanting it to go own forever. I would have killed to have my own ipod back then.

I remember the first time I heard a neighborhood kid playing an electric guitar (It was the Reidlingers a couple streets over. There were playing a really crappy version of I think, "Rock & Roll All Nite"). I remember the first time I saw Pat Metheny, and Rush, and standing against the stage while Jimmy Page played the solo to Stairway at the British Invasion show in Dallas. I remember the first time I heard/saw Eric Johnson on his 1989 Austin City Limits appearance. These were touchstones in my life. Music has always had a special power in my life in that it reaches me on a deeper and much more direct level than almost anything else I can describe. Music can communicate on many levels, often on higher intellectual, spiritual, political, and other more esoteric contexts. But Music has always had a unique quality in its ability to reach me emotionally.

I'm not an overtly emotional person. I didn't cry at my Father's funeral. I didn't feel like I was holding anything back, I just didn't feel the urge. I didn't feel any strong emotions about his death at all for several months. But one morning I woke up with a song in my head. It was very simple, just a few chord changes and some vague ideas of lyrics, but I knew it was a song about my father, and about his passing. I spent a few hours trying to work out the chord changes and jotted down some lyrics, but I couldn't continue. I was just finding myself overcome with emotion as I would hear the song and attempt to attach lyrics. I'll get back to it someday. As powerful and cathartic as this experience was, it wasn't a unique experience with music for me.

I've heard someone describe how they don't automatically get emotional when watching movies. It doesn't matter if the movie is supposed to be moving or not, they just don't have that empathetic experience while watching the drama unfold. Until the music starts playing. It doesn't matter how cheesy or nostalgic the show is, when they cue the music at the right time, it's like flipping a switch.

I don't know how else to describe it. For me, music has an immediate and powerful pathway for me. In internet parlance, it has an ultra high speed broadband connection to my emotional side. In my life I don't show or express a great deal of emotion, especially to outsiders. Even within my immediate family unit, I don't regularly show or express sadness and anger. I'm a generally stable, happy and fun loving person. I love to laugh and enjoy the simple pleasures in life, but I don't really experience a great deal of sadness. That's partly because I live a very fortunate life, but it's also because I'm just not inclined to feel sadness. It's generally not a healthy emotion in my opinion. If there's something in your life that makes you sad and you can change it, you have no business being sad. If it's something you can't change, then you should focus on something that doesn't make you sad.

But with music it's a different thing. It's truly like a switch. I can be listening to a song and feel an overwhelming wave of sadness or melancholy wash over me as I listen. And when my Iphone shuffles to the next tune which is usually something that's polar opposite to the last song, my mood can immediately reset itself to the current tune. And it doesn't feel unnatural to go from sad melancholy to high energy, angry heavy metal. It feels perfectly normal.

Music is as fundamental to my life as eating and drinking. I'm fortunate in that I'm able to listen to music all day, even at work. Wow, this is really a rambling, circular way to get to my original point.

To whit, taking stock. Music, while being a persistent and powerful force in my entire life, returned to its rightful center when I decided to resume my life as a musician. It feels weird calling myself a musician because I don't perform for others (unless you count Aeyoung and our four legged children), and I don't earn income or otherwise engage in any activity that would identify me as such that others would know. Nevertheless, getting a new electric guitar, amp, and starting to practice again felt like coming home after being gone a long, long time. My love for music had never changed, I still had that same spark of excitement when learning a new passage, finding a new sound, feeling the calluses starting to return to my fingertips. But I had changed.

Although I still had that young teenager with Rush and Zeppelin posters on his walls and dreams of knocking audiences out with my playing prowess inside me, I was a very different person by then. I had spent 17 years in the Army. I had served overseas on long tours and deployments. I had experienced Combat firsthand, done my job well, and come out relatively unscathed. I understood the value of life. I understood the value of work. I knew that the truly valuable things in life are hard won. I knew that becoming a great musician wasn't about the endpoint. These sorts of endeavors are not about the destination, to coin another old phrase. I had faced many challenges that seemed insurmountable in the past and overcome them. I knew that almost nothing is impossible (I would say nothing, but I don't care how hard I work at it, I'm not going to get a roster spot on the Cowboys) if you want it bad enough.

Oh yes, taking stock. I learned a really valuable lesson about my life in general when I got back into playing music. You have to identify what's really important to you. Take away all the superfluous bullshit that clutters up your life and leave only the things you truly can't live without. I don't mean what you would take in case of fire, we can be a little more generous than that. First and foremost it was always be my wife and dogs. After that, the most important things in my life that I can't and/or don't want to live without are essentially the same as they were when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Music, books, movies, and later video games. There's a lot more to my life and experience than that, but those are the things that truly make me happy.

I don't discount the importance or value of medicine. It's my career and it's been very rewarding to me and my family on multiple levels. But if I'm being completely honest, I could leave medicine today and never look back. I actually like my job. I like the work. It's usually interesting, low stress, and it's good compensation. But I don't have to practice medicine. If I found a similarly lucrative and low stress predictable occupation in an area I was better suited to work, I would probably consider a career change.

Not so with music, movies, books and video games. These are what makes me truly happy and will always be a part of my life. Sad to say, if I'm still alive to see my 80s and beyond, I'll still probably be looking forward to the latest version of a fantasy RPG like Warcraft when it comes out. I'll probably still be listening to my hard rock and metal, and I'll probably still be trying to attend concerts if Aeyoung and I are physically capable and have enough hearing remaining to enjoy the show.

So, what has taking stock go to do with this? I try to make a point of taking stock at least once a year or so. I ask myself where I'm at in my life, and where do I want to go? What are my weak areas and will improving them enrich my life? If so, why aren't I working on them right now?

That's the simplest way I can describe taking stock. Where are you at in your life? Where do you want to be? What do you need to do to get there? Why aren't you walking that way right now?

My current "take stock" list has been pretty stable since I got back into music. I've passed a few milestones like retiring from the Army, moving back to my hometown, getting a good stable federal job. My short/long term goals are fairly simple. We need to sell our house in Killeen and then focus on the next house we will buy which will hopefully be our last. We want to get it right this time so that we're completely content with our decision and can happily stay in that home for the rest of our lives. That's the goal anyways.

After that, my list of priorities is fairly predictable. Continue improving in music: (acoustic/electric guitar, piano, theory, ear, songwriting, production, performing) and possibly add drums and bass to my instruments, learn to read/write/speak Korean (finally after nearly 22 years of marriage), train/complete a marathon and continue running as a way of life.

The satisfying thing for me is that none of my great passions are about reaching an endpoint. As my technical ability in music improves, I'll eventually get to the point where I feel less compelled to work on technique and more on songwriting, improvising, performing. Regardless, I'll never run out of things to learn or practice. And I'll never lose my love for the process. I would have lost it by now if it was going to happen.

Also, I'll never run short of new music to listen to, new movies to watch, new books to read, or new video games to play. Life is truly wonderful. By taking stock I can see where I want my life to go and I'm thrilled to be making the journey. And if I die tomorrow, I know I've lived my life to the fullest that I could with the time given to me.

Thanks, Yngwie.

Leave it to Yngwie to say one thing in an interview that actually solves a problem I've been struggling with for a long time. There was a question about speed (with Yngwie of all people) and he said "If you don't have your left and right hands synchronized, you'll never play fast."  Now, this seems like common sense, but it's one of those fundamentals that seems so simple you don't think about it. The most effective way to synchronize your left and right hands is to play with a metronome (or equivalent) only at a speed that you can play the material perfectly. I've heard this over and over, but sadly I had gotten away from metronome playing for a long time. Since I started incorporating 5 minutes of steady metronome scale playing a few weeks ago I've already started to notice improvement in my fast scale playing. Yeah, I'm kind of a genius. Or an Idiot Savant with heavy emphasis on the former.