Question and Answer
This is where I take the questions
that people ask me that I think are important, and I share them along with
my responses on the website. Some of this is specific to guitar but much
of it is not. Let me know if your have questions or you want me to comment
on some thought of your own.
Q: At the jam session last night I played three songs and did not have any trouble with them. I knew one of them but had the chord changes for the others (in a fakebook). When the set was over the pianist asked me how many of the three songs I knew. I asked him what he meant by knowing the song. He essentially said to play them with the chord changes used by the people in Chicago. His comments were confusing because his point had to do with how I approached the song instead of how well I could improvise. I appreciate any thoughts you might have.
A: When you are learning and trying to come up through the tradition some people are going to be unconditionally encouraging but others are going to challenge you. You will react by feeling uncomfortable or confused. But both of these kinds of people are saying the same thing, which is that you have a long way to go. You know that, probably, but you cannot control the way people express these things.
It is likely that you know how to PLAY better than you know how to HEAR the others on the bandstand. Whichever chord changes are going on at the time are the right chord changes to the song. The pianist was not interested in how well you improvise because from his point of view you are not reacting to his chord changes. If your improvising is based on the fakebook changes or your memory rather than listening to what he and the bassist are playing, then it is not a conversation, it is a lecture by you. And we all want a conversation.
So if the fakebook says the chord is D7 but the piano player plays D7(b9), you can't play what you want, you must play based on D7(b9). You have to hear it and play with the different scale, etc. If you do it right, he knows it, and you earn the right to be accompanied when you want to do something specific. That's the game right there. It starts with knowing the tune, whatever that means. But it is not finished until you know all the options and can act upon them. That's what using your ear is all about.
Q: How should I deal with flying with my guitar?
A: All bets are off these days-it is a time of transition in the airline industry. But here is my best advice: Plan on carrying your guitar with you onto the plane and putting it into an overhead. Have it in a snug fitting hard-shell case. Loosen the strings about a minor 3rd. NEVER check it through baggage. Go online the night before and see how big a plane you are on. Look up how many closets it has and how big the overheads are. For example, American Airlines MD 80s have a flight attendant closet immediately inside the front entrance. If you ask nicely they let you put your guitar in there. Also, check to see if it is a full flight by looking at seat assignments. If it is not, then stop worrying.
On flight day, go to the gate and get your ticket-the ticket agent does not care about your guitar, so don't try to hide it or be discreet, etc. (Better yet, get a boarding pass online the day before). Go through security-they don't care about your guitar either. The only place you may be confronted is at the gate, but do not assume the worst. Just sit down and wait for boarding to start. I recommend getting seat assignments (early as possible, again online) in the REAR of the plane. This way you get boarded first and you have your choice of all the empty overheads.
If you get stopped at the gate it will be because the flight is full and the overheads will be stuffed. They will want to "gate-check" your instrument. USUALLY, this means they give you a claim check and hand carry your guitar to cargo before the flight. This is not so bad, way safer than checking it in through baggage. After you land the guitar will be hand carried back from cargo and will be waiting for you as soon as you walk off the plane at your arrival gate. NEWS FLASH: A disturbing new trend among the airlines is that some, when offering to gate check, hand carry your instrument to the plane ONLY AT THE DEPARTURE CITY. At the arrival point it goes through the hated baggage process. I know Spirit does this, for example. Check with your airline before you book to see if they do this, and if so, consider finding another airline. Another strategy to reduce the odds of this happening is to book a flight at an unpopular time (like overnight) when chances that the plane is relatively empty are better. When and if any of this happens to you, don't panic. These folks are doing their jobs and they are more likely to treat your instrument well enough if you don't jump to conclusions and come on with an attitude.
If you have a Strat or other solid body with a bolt-on neck, consider what my friend Mike DiLiddo did when confronted by ground personnel before a flight from Florida to Chicago. He detached the neck from the body with a screwdriver, which make the dimensions such that he could fit the axe into his carry-on luggage.
I have flown with a guitar post 9/11 at least 20 times. I had to gate check only once in that time, on a flight to Florida. One other time, in Zurich, Switzerland, they took the guitar from me when I was already on the plane and put it in cargo. The guitar was in a Calton flight case, which are great, and which I strongly recommend. I got my Calton on ebay. I could go on, but those are the basics.
Q: Any tips on how to audition for a college jazz studies program?
A: The objective when auditioning for a college jazz program is basically twofold: 1)to demonstrate to the auditioner what you are good at, and 2)to refrain from demonstrating to the auditioner what you are not good at.
Decide which school is your first choice, second choice, and so on. It is all about the audition. Audition at your least desirable school choices first, or even audition early on at a couple places you have no intention of attending, maybe some local schools or community colleges. This way you get used to the audition process itself. You will find that the schools do not do things in the same way. Some will be downright flaky. Bring your own ipod or boombox with play-along CDs just in case. Audition at your first school choice after you have done a few to be at your strongest. However if you wait too long, whatever money is available for ability-based scholarship will probably be dried up, so pick your dates carefully.
Get the specific audition requirements for each school as soon as you can. If they specify knowing scales or arpeggios or chords, it is just a given that you must know this material cold. Not blazing fast, just with no possibility for error. Learn all keys, in eighths or triplets or 16ths. Learn the tunes, get play-along recordings and play with them, and also organize jam sessions with friends to get as much experience as possible.
Learn how to sound good comping as well as soloing. Learn sparse chord voicing with only roots, 3rds and 7ths, and use them when you are confronted with chord symbols you don't understand. Avoid Freddie Green-style quarter note chording in combo situations. Rather, play in a block chord style like the pianist Wynton Kelly does when accompanying Wes Montgomery. Don't play bar chords.
There are things you can control and things you cannot control, so learn to control the things you can. Set your own tempos if auditioning with a live rhythm section, and set them realistically. If they throw something at you that you KNOW you can't do, tell them you can't do it. Never willingly put yourself in position to sound bad. On the other hand, if you solo well on the required tunes, they may challenge you with something harder, so they know where your limits are. In that case, if you think you can handle it, then go for it. Other than that, smile, shake hands, look people in the eye, remember names and use them, thank everyone for their time before and after the audition and basically act mature.
Q: I've been worried about the future lately and wondering if I am going to be able to support myself after college as a professional musician
A: This comes from a really good college player.
First, do what it takes to become a great musician. Get access to the correct information and act on it. Think of it as a business that exists within a marketplace. To succeed you must know what the marketplace wants and give it to them. There is a Bebop marketplace, there is a classical orchestra marketplace, etc. Find young players who have broken through to the first or second level and find out how they did it. Hang with them, take a lesson. Do what people are doing NOW, not 30 years ago.
The life is different depending on your specialty. If you do film work you need to read and play all styles on every instrument related to your primary instrument. You will never get a tan because you will never see the sun.
If you play Jazz you record, travel the world and do all the festivals
and the few clubs that are left, and you will never earn what you are
worth. If you teach you complete your education and focus on becoming effective at educating people. Balancing teaching with gigging means
learning how and when to say no. Relocate to the place where they
do what you are good at. Jazz is centered in New York, most of the pop
acts stage out of Los Angeles, film work is in L.A. or London or Orlando (Universal Studios). Wherever you are you are constantly out meeting,
hanging with and playing in front of the people who play your instrument
and do the work you want to do, preparing for the day you break into the
scene by subbing for someone. And, for the rest of your life, you
constantly refine your mastery of the fundamentals and gain experience
doing whatever there is to do, so that as the times change you can adapt.
Q: How come my Ab major scale doesn't sound like Wes Montgomery's Ab major Scale?"
A: "Jazz Line", is a combination of scale motion, arpeggiation and chromaticism. The rhythmic motion is basically an eighth-note flow which is ornamented by certain rhythmic figures that begin or interrupt the eighth-note line. You have to phrase. A phrase is a line that has a beginning, a middle and an end, and which seems to say something. Series of phrases relate to each other somehow. That's the technical answer. Now get the Wes Montgomery records and learn to transcribe a short solo. Play it 100 times, memorize it, then play it another 100 times. Learn to put the phrases into your own solo. Now do another solo, and keep it up until your Ab scale sounds like his.
These are some of the things my guitar has taught me
in the last 43 years:
There is no such thing as talent. Talent is a concept embraced by wannabes, critics and doting parents to describe something they don't understand. There is only hard work and the desire to succeed.
You need to be organized and have good study habits.
You need correct information, not hearsay. A good teacher gives you this.
You must study before you can practice. Study is the process of taking something you cannot do and getting it to the point where you can do it
slowly but steadily and correctly. Practice is refining, perfecting and gaining confidence in what you have studied.
You must go and listen to live music of all types. The people who end up playing great are always at the shows.
You cannot get this on your own terms. The music dictates the deal.
The most common problems jazz students have when it comes to reaching their goals are 1)they aren't listening to jazz, and 2)they simply don't do the work.
Listening to music is not a background activity for the musician. When
you find music that is important to you close the door, shut off the
phone, put on headphones, close your eyes, stop thinking and really
listen. Listen over and over again. Listen for the story.
Listen only to music that moved people 100 years ago or music that will
move people 100 years from now. Don't waste your time on the flavor of
The nature of mastery is learning the same thing in different ways. Be
able to play it, sing it, spell it, read it, write it and explain it.
Do not what is convenient but what works. Going to a great teacher or
seeking out great music is seldom convenient. The road is littered
with the carcasses of those who accepted their own excuses. You must
take responsibility for your own success or failure.