A Cautionary Tale

I recently watched a video documentary about the band 'Badfinger'(see link at bottom of page), one of the more tragic stories in rock'n'roll's chequered history.

'Badfinger' were the first band signed to Apple Records, the 'Beatles' own label and looked set for a long and successful career, but it wasn't to be. A mix of appalling management and bad luck left them penniless and virtually forgotten.

The real tragedy of 'Badfinger' was during the turmoil founding member Pete Ham suicided.  His band mate and songwriting partner Tom Evans followed some 8 years later.

They weren't the first band to be ripped off or taken advantage of by unscrupulous management and/or legal problems and they won't be the last.

Artists such as Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, John Fogarty and the Beatles have all paid or are still paying the price of poor decisions in the past.

As a musician it's easy to be totally immersed in the creative process of making music and not taking any care of business and this is 'manna from heaven' for those wanting to make a quick buck at your expense.

Even in the process of putting a band together things get left in the too hard basket or the everything will be alright, we're all mates basket only to be tangled up in legal's and acrimony down the track.

The cautionary tale is to take care of the business, it is important to have everything sorted from the start so that everyone knows where they stand. It's also important to keep an eye on the business as your career progresses. Let the managers manage but take an interest in your career, don't be an absentee client.

Don't take for granted that everything will be ok because if that's your thinking you can almost guarantee that it won't.

 

Beware – this could damage your guitar…

This is only a short post but very important for all those who value their guitars.

I have an acoustic guitar that I used for years, mainly to play around the house and for teaching. I wasn't doing any acoustic gigs at the time so I used to leave it out on a stand.

Sounds reasonable I guess...

After some time I started to notice some marks on the guitar and tried to clean them off but unfortunately found I couldn't. The marks were on the front of the guitar and I worked out it was the same spots the guitar stand kicked up to hold the instrument in place.

I thought this was interesting as I'd been told that these stands would not leave marks and were perfectly safe to leave your guitar on...this myth is still told around many music stores.

Eventually I decided to write the manufacturer and got this response... "Indeed no colored stand is safe to use with nitro lacquer finish due to the rest risk of the included colour." My stand is black by the way.

So the lesson is this; if you value your guitar, put it away in a case and don't leave it sitting on a stand for lengthy periods of time.

Chances are it could be ok, but I wouldn't take the risk.

The 2 most important guitar players of all time…

...and I bet they're not who you think they are.

When we think of the great guitar players the names Hendrix, Clapton, Beck and Page easily fall off the tongue. If we're into country guitar it maybe Atkins, Reed, Burton or Lee. Thinking back it could be the Kings or T Bone, for the jazzers Django, Wes, Christian, Pass or Benson. The list seems almost endless.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm talking about modern guitar playing here, I'm not talking classical guitar but the type of guitar playing that developed in the 20th century and continues on today.

When we talk about guitar as a single string solo instrument we need to look back to where it all started. The first recorded evidence of guitar as an improvising instrument is back in the 1920's.

There were 2 great players each credited by their own supporters and advocates as being the one. I think we can dispense with the bias and say both had a huge impact on how the guitar would be seen and used from their time forward.

The 2 guitar players I'm talking about are Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson

Eddie Lang

Born Salvatore Massaro in 1902 Eddie was the first guitar virtuoso of jazz. His style set the tone for generations of players to come. Not just a jazz player, Eddie was one of the most popular musicians of his generation. He worked extensively as an accompanist for the great singers of his time all the while transforming the role of guitar in jazz & popular music.

A great knowledge of harmony and fine ability as an accompanist as the video above shows he also had an extraordinary right hand rhythm technique which is displayed here with violinist Joe Venuti.

https://youtu.be/neiUz5d98kk

Eddie's life was tragically cut short by complications of a tonsillectomy in 1933 at the age of 31. The measure of his popularity was that the American radio networks observed a minute silence as a mark of respect on his passing.

Lonnie Johnson

Born in New Orleans in 1899, Lonnie was born into a family of musicians. Whilst known primarily as a blues artist, he was much more than that. He worked with artists of the calibre of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Bessie Smith. His recording in 1927 of "6/88 Glide" pioneered the guitar solo.

You can hear the sophisticated lines in his playing that were later taken on by the likes of T Bone Walker and BB King to name a couple who cite Lonnie as a major influence and many more current players who wouldn't even know he existed.

Lonnie was not just a great guitar player but also a multi instrumentalist and singer. Bob Dylan who was lucky enough to work with Lonnie in his later years during the folk boom in New York City cites him as a major influence and even Elvis Presley was said to have been influenced by his vocal stylings.

Eddie & Lonnie

Eddie & Lonnie recorded together in the late 20's, among the first recordings to feature black and white artists together. Because of racial tensions at the time Eddie Lang often recorded under the name of "Blind Willie Dunn".

 

They brought guitar into the mainstream, replacing the banjo, mandolin & ukulele which were the popular instruments of the time. They made the instrument legit where it had previously been a bit of a novelty cowboy box.

For this alone I think they should be acknowledged. Add to that their great playing and the "licks" that have been stolen so many times over most have forgotten the source. I mean they still turn up on recordings and on concert stages all over the world.

This is why I acknowledge Eddie & Lonnie as the 2 most important guitar players of all time...not to mention 2 of the greatest.

Do Something, Do…

You might not know this but then again...you just might. I am a bit of a fan of Australian Football, fan = fanatic, I guess that's about right.

One of the icons of the game, John Kennedy Snr. made a speech during the 1975 grand final that has become immortalised. The key message of the speech was 'Do something, Do, Don't think, Don't hope, Do'.

Thinking about what to write this week & procrastinating as usual, Kennedy's words came to my rescue.

...but, how could his message help you, the guitar player?

In my time teaching, running clinics and talking with other guitar players I've found Kennedy's message rings true.

Don't think, Do... Overthinking is something that plagues many players and students. I've seen people spending more time on setting up practice schedules than they spend on actual practice. There is a good term for this, 'Planned Procrastination'. An elaborate spread sheet detailing your practice sessions is not going to make you a better player. Doing the practice is.

Don't hope, Do... If you hope something will happen but don't follow through with action then all you have is hope. You've achieved nothing. At clinics and guitar events you hear people talk about wanting to be better players. Unfortunately they don't follow though and 'Do' what they need to do to make it happen. Hope, wishful thinking...somehow they think by attending some magic will rub off on them.

Do What? Well for a start doing something is better than doing nothing. It can be something as simple as learning a new song. Do something that will help you move forward, be in some way a better player today than you were yesterday.

Keeping it simple I have 3 basics I work from. I review what I've done to consolidate, I work on something new and I look to apply what I've learned. Currently I'm working on some ear training, a bit more on chords and rhythm guitar and a bit on improvisation. I always look to learn a new tune.

Kennedy's teams were renowned for their toughness, nicknamed 'Kennedy's Commando's' they were well drilled. But even the best sometimes take their eyes off the ball, try to over complicate things, make things harder than they need be.

So...Do Something, Do, Don't Think, Don't Hope, Do.

 

 

Do you need to read music?

I'm often asked about the importance of learning to read music. Is learning to read music important? Do I need to read music to learn guitar? Will reading make me a better guitar player?

Like many things in life the answer is not so simple, there are a few things that need to be taken into account first.

You & the guitar...

The first thing to consider is why you are playing or wanting to play guitar. Is there something that draws you to the guitar? is there a specific style or type of music you want to play? is there a particular guitar player/s that inspire you? are you doing it for fun? is it your profession or do you see it as a future profession for you? are you in a band? do you want to be in a band? do you want to play for your own enjoyment? do you want to play for friends? Is it a hobby?

In other words what is the guitar to you and how do you see yourself as a guitar player going forward.

There are no right or wrong answers here, you just need to have a good idea of what you are working to achieve as this will help understand whether reading music is important to you or not.

Music Style...

The style you chose to play will be an important indication of whether you need to read or not. There are traditions attached to certain styles.

For example, if you are looking to be a 'Classical Guitarist' then reading is crucial to you, there is no question here. The entire repertoire for the 'Classical Guitarist' is written in standard notation for study and performance purposes.

'Classical Guitar' is an off shoot from the tradition of 'Western Classical Music' and our system of music notation comes from here.

Other cultures use no formal written music at all. Indian traditional or classical music is learned under a type of master/apprentice system, music is passed on from the master to the apprentice.

Folk music styles, including the 'Blues' and 'Gypsy Jazz' are passed on through the generations 'around the camp fire' in the communities.

Rock/pop & country music is similarly learned but rather than passed on 'around the camp fire' many of the great players learned by listening to recordings and emulating the greats of the past. Players like Tommy Emmanuel, Jeff Back, Jimmy Hendrix, the Beatles...non of them learned to read music.

Jazz originally developed like the folk traditions and is closely aligned to the blues but as it's developed and integrated into mainstream education, many jazz players are also now great readers. Of course many guitar players such as George Benson don't read at all.

Available time...

Like it or not we all have the same amount of time in the day, it's what we do with the time that matters.

Reading music is time consuming, you need to spend considerable, consistent time on it to make it worthwhile.

If you fall under the category of playing music for fun, a pastime, a hobby then reading music (unless for classical guitar) will take away time from what you really want to do, playing music and may not give you enough of a pay off. I would say in this case it's an option rather than a requirement.

For the professional musician or for those that want to pursue a professional career then the question of reading music is a harder choice.

Pros & Cons...

The benefits of reading are that it can open up more avenues of work. It can help give you a greater understanding of music (musicianship). It's essential for further tertiary study. There is a lot of music only available in the written form so that means more music is available to you for example books such as the Berklee method contain a lot of graded technique exercises that without reading skills wouldn't be available to you. It's a good skill to develop for older learner as it keeps the mind active and helps develop technique and basic musicianship.

The downside of reading is really only the time it takes to do it. It is a big downside though and must be considered carefully, a lot of great players can't read a note.

To sum up...

Do you need to read music to be a good guitar player? No

Should you learn to read music? Really it's up to you and what you are wanting to achieve

One of my old teachers, Bruce Clarke insisted that every one of his students learned to read music. It was a prerequisite if you wanted to study with him.

 

I'm happy I learned to read and as a teacher I think it's something I should be able to do but it's not something I insist all my students do. In fact for many I don't think it's a good use of their time.