What I Learned From Knowing Great Musicians

Often times I get a parent who asks me how much their son or daughter should practice in order to get really good on the guitar. And, I have to be honest, as soon as I hear how much and how long I already know that someone is sizing up their effort.

This way of thinking makes sense on the surface, but it’s an improper way of looking at it.

Guitar is an animal. We never really master it completely. And, the guitarists I know that became very proficient at it play CONSTANTLY, or at least have spent a big part of their life playing CONSTANTLY. Yep, that’s the secret.

It almost takes an obsession of sort to just LOVE the entire process of playing the instrument.

This is why I see young players get good extremely fast and that is because they are able to put in a lot of time playing. They go to school, eat and play guitar. That certainly was me, too.

But, with enough time with the instrument in your hands and keeping your focus on the guitar, everyone can achieve a good level of proficiency. This is absolutely true. I see it happen all the time!

99% of my students want to get good and simply enjoy playing the guitar in order for them to play their favorite songs, write and/or record their own songs, be able to jam with friends, a band and just get closer to the music they love – metal.

So, I say go for it … play as much as you want!

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
– Aristotle

Piggy Bank & Your Guitar

One idea, or rather analogy, that helped me as a practicing musician over the years was one of a piggy bank. But, not one you put money in, but one that holds the currency of guitar practice.

Whenever I practice guitar I imagine depositing practice currency into the piggy bank. When you practice a lot, you deposit a lot of currency into it.

You see, once you start gigging a lot, playing professionally even, you will be doing a lot of travelling to gigs or shows. If not travelling, you’ll be doing other tasks that will allow you to do music.

When you are not able to practice, you can imagine yourself taking out some of the practice currency. This sounds imaginary, but being a musician works very much like that.

When flying to other continents and generally being in a band, you sometimes spend more time at the airports or vans than with the guitar in your hand. This is why its important to have the practice curency in the bank because you will need to draw on it. But, in order for it to carry you, it must be there first. Thinking in above terms can also be a very motivating factor to play your instrument more.

It’s a simple idea, but one that has helped me in the past as much as it helps me today.

The Hidden Secret Of A Metronome

What Is The True Hidden Secret Of A Metronome?

The metronome conversation comes up often with my students and I always do mention to them that I have used the metronome myself a lot – especially in my major woodshedding/college days.

But, I have to say that I think many guitarists think of a metronome not in full light. What I mean by that is that most think of a metronome as a speed building tool. And, yes it can be that, too. But, it is actually something even more important.

The real secret of the metronome is that it also a SLOOOW Down tool! Yep, the strength of it is not what most associate metronomes with.

How it works.

If I have a guitar phrase that I know I can perform more cleanly and in time, I can take my metronome and choose a click tempo that is where I sort of play the lick. I get this in a ballpark. Then, I slow it down considerably and I make sure that I understand where every note lays. This way there are no surprises whatsoever when I play my lick up to tempo. I burn in the notes slow, feeling that slow tempo, working through all my finger position changes, going over and over while getting to understand what I am playing 100% percent. This is how you play anything lightning fast with conviction because you can also play it slow perfectly. Playing something slower than you are comfortable with prepares you for faster takes later.

Remember: Slow To Smooth, Smooth To Fast.

So, just remember this lesson because it’s a good one.

You Are Never Ready (At, Least In The Sense That You Are Expecting)

As we head into 2020, I wantto share something with you, which I hope will prove a little helpful. I know realizing this on my own end helped me put stuff in perspective.

Truth is – we are never ready for the next thing that can prove beneficial and door opening for us. If we “were” 100% ready, the “next” thing would not be a big thing at all, you see?

In any big thing that happened to me, I always felt that I needed to stretch my abilities to get there. When joining Halford, I knew that it was the 1st time that I started playing music with true professional players, several of them like Bobby J. or Roy Z. have already done major label albums and have toured the world. I had to step up and learn – a lot. I put in countless hours sweating riffs, working on accents that seemed to be easy for everyone else, or working things out because in my mind – I was always behind.

When asked to join Testament I was also not 100% percent if I was ready. I could play the solos, but the intense rhythm work in the band was beyond what I ever did. Again, I stepped up and spent about 8 hours every day for 4 months prepping and in the end, the experience has brought up my playing to another level.

With Guitar World’s Metal For Life column I thought that I knew enough “stuff” for maybe 4 columns? I ended up doing nearly 5 years of monthly lessons. I had to dig deep, learn new things, categorize what I knew and did not know.

Anything, and I mean “anything” that I ever did that had some sort of a timeline stamp of importance, I had to stretch my abilities to reach it.

I mean, does anyone feel that they are really ready to record their first album? You grab an opportunity and go for it with excitement. Figure out stuff as you go along. And, hopefully get it better the next time around. I recorded my 1st album on a shoestring budget while delivering pizza, but it was enough for the Metal God to hear and to give me a shot.

The Trick is THIS: This is where REAL Happines and Fullfillment lies. As humans, we have to progress. We were designed for it. And pushing ourselves to that excitement area, even though we have to set up, is the only way to do it.

It is important not to stop taking these outside steps. As we get little older, it can seem to be harder to do this. Because now we have responsibilities, mortage, crap we aquired to take care off, etc. But, just thinking out loud – keep above in mind.

And, remember, that you might never feel ready to jam with a drummer, a band, or whatever, but this is were Courage comes in b/c Courage is doing something although although you have Fear. It doesn’t happen to only you, but to everyone, including myself.

So, step into 2020 with some new stuff to prove! There might be some opportunities for you right now that you are considering.

As they say fortune favors the bold, and that I also find true. You’ll see stuff align for you when taking steps. It always did for me and I’m not different than anyone else b/c I go through the same exact process.

Exploring Musical Styles Outside Of Your Own As A Musician

Today, I want to touch base on exploring different styles of guitar playing. I think I can relate enough to that idea as I have studied a bit of classical and a bit of jazz to kind of summarize my idea on this.

I think it is a worthwhile investment to take a look at different styles. What I also think is important is to keep in mind that you are a predominantly a metal player (most people reading this blog are, as an example) and use whatever you learn in other styles to your advantage to do what you do as a metal player. In short, this was my outlook for years. Still is.

For a good couple of years, I consistently practiced nylon string classical guitar, mostly because of Randy Rhoads. But, I knew that being a classical guitarist was not my future and if I practiced my fingerpicking a lot, my pick technique would suffer. I mixed classical and metal together where I would fingerpick top 3 strings and use the pick for the bottom 3 strings. It worked with my teachers, but I knew this was not going to work in a conservatory. I was fine with it. Classical guitar allowed me to learn about sign reading, position playing, counterpoint and melody. Lots of great stuff, really.

While in college at Berklee I was surrounded by many jazz players. I was not in love with jazz and did not like the way it sounded. It just never had the attack I like in music, but picking up a jazz licks and analizing jazz chord progressions proved useful for when I want to sound a little “outside” in my metal playing. Even in college, I knew I was not going to play jazz, but I kept an open ear. I must admit, the closest I got to jazz was Al DiMeola and it’s not that close, lol.

I did lsten to other instruments like saxophone and players like Eric Marienthal, etc. I also listened to non-metal guitarists such as Robben Ford, Stevie Ray Vaughan. It kind of allowed me to think a bit outside of metal, which was my diet for the rest of the 90%. It allowed me to learn different phrasing, listen to space between notes, things like that.

So, long story short – there’s no shame in picking up anything anywhere. I just think it’s important to always keep in mind that you’ll have to translate it back to your own language which is metal.

4 Pillars Of Learning An Instrument

Today, I am going to put up a page with some thoughts about how we progress as guitarists or musicians. After players have been students of the instrument for a while, they often wonder what should they concentrate on in order to keep progressing.

I have come up with 4 Pillars after giving this subject some thought and the idea seems to fit the 4 ways we stuff our time into as players.

I think it is important to have a decent balance between all of these 4 pillars as they all depend on each other for solid progress. In other words, you don’t want to be stuck in any one for too long and be forgetting about the others.
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Categorizing Projects And Decluttering Your Mind

I would share with you a system I use to organize some of the projects I might be working on.

I found it too difficult to keep all of the things I have to do in my playing, work and personal life in my brain only. And, we are not great at remembering if we let go of something or did not work on something enough.

So, for the past few years I have been keeping a simple color folder for each project that I am working on. One folder might be called “House”, another “Guitar Retreat 2019”, etc. In each folder, I keep track of what I need to do, what I already finished and I keep my ideas in there. I don’t have dozens of these. This year, I have one for each of my live shows where I keep van rental info in, set lists, hotels reservations, check xeroxes that went out and came in. I have one for my Summer Camp, Guitar Retreat, etc. I often have one for the House and any improvements that I have going on. This system really helps me unclog my brain because it’s already cluttered there sometimes.

Additional plus of this.

The folders also allow me to say that today I want to spend 30 mins on guitar retreat organzation and 30 mins on the show in December. And, I open the sucker up and I start working. Then after my time is up, I close it and open up another project folder. It took me a while to graduate to switch from a project to project like that and put down items that I might not have yet finished. But, just the idea of having things in compartment such as a folder allowed me to keep track of things very well. What is good is also the fact that I can pull up my folder from any year for a project such as a guitar retreat and see what I did then as far as schedule, who was there, the food that was purchased, etc. I can see what I did last year, what my expenses were. This gives me a great starting point for the current year’s folder without having to start the entire process all over again. It saves time, gives you a step up. Inside each folder, I leave notes for myself, ideas. It’s cool, I really can’t see doing this other ways. I might also be a little old school and I don’t work well with keeping everything on a computer screen without physically using a pen to get info down.

Playing In Drop D Tuning As An Alternative To Detuning Your Guitar A Whole Step Down

Today’s blog is actually inspired by a question that one of my guitar students James asked the other day. james asked me if the song “Resurrection” (From Halford’s Resurrection album) was recorded a whole step down, or was it recorded in drop D.

The answer is, as I mentioned to James, is that the guitar was tuned a whole step down. Every string was tuned a step down.

The above made me think how some guys out there play songs such as Resurrection or American Metalhead (also recorded with every string down a step), or any other track recorded a whole step down in Drop D tuning. To me this never sounds good.

When I toured with Sebastian Bach and we played American Metalhead in the live set, I had to resort to playing that track in “Drop D” and I did not like it too much. We had to do it, because it was too much to bring another guitar with us to do all these dates we used to do called “Fly dates”. This means that you play a show, go to the airport and fly to another city or country. Then next day you repeat that and repeat that again. Try that for 4 weeks. It’s gruling and all I have to say is to have some good guitar cases. lol.

So with all of these instruments travelling with us on airlines (and, you guessed it – everytime you check in, its $85-100 per guitar), its gets too much.

So, I traveled with only 2 guitars and had to play American Metalhead in drop D. What I did was I had my main guitar in E, had another back-up for it in E and if I had to do drop D song, I’d just tune down my bottom string a step down.

It worked well enough, but there is something that changes when you play D songs in Drop D. Basically, what I think happens is that the song was written with a different energy using different frets and strings to get the riffs out. When you play the track in Drop D – it is true, you are playing the correct notes, but they don’t have to same dynamic as the original track. I am not sure if the audience notices, but as a guitar player you tent to know these differences.

So, just some ideas on this for the future.

As a side note, with the tuning of the bottom string a lot to D, I stopped travelling with Floyd Rose equipped guitars with Baz. As we know, it is hard to down tune Floyd Rose on the spot without adjustment. So, another compromise – but, in return it made me a better guitar player as I had to really work on and concentrate on my vibrato since I no longer had the whammy bar. It was a great lesson!

Consistency Over Intensity

“Long term consistency trumps short term intensity” …

This is a great quote by Bruce Lee that I want to share with you in our blog today. I use thinking of this effect to sometimes motivate myself out of not feeling like practicing guitar, music, whatever. It does not happen often, but every once in a while it does. This funk happens to every single human being on the planet. The trick is to have a system to help you combat when this season strikes.

I think many musicians await until they are inspired to put in a lot of practice time in and they do just that; they play a lot over some days or weeks or even months and then they are off the wagon hardly touching the instrument.

To a performance described above I always prefer to live by the Bruce Lee quote instead. Do something small with the instrument today and do it again without taking time off. It’s like a constant deposit into the piggy bank weeks after weeks, year after year – it adds up.

Here is the second part of this, as I mentioned before – inspiration follows perspiration. In short, once you have the guitar (or any instrument) in your hands for a few minutes you’ll often get the inspirational spark and you’ll stay playing for a while and you will put in the necessary time. It works hand in hand. First action, then inspiration.

I hope this helps!

Confidence Deconstructed

Ever since I started to play the guitar I have been fascinated with how our minds work, how life’s proven principles work and how that all ties into success on our instrument; whether it’s playing it, forging a carreer out of it, etc.

I don’t really believe that anyone is born confident or born unconfident. Several factors shape our confidence in anything. So I believe that Confidence (in anything) is made out of Courage, Commitment and Capabilities.

We can apply these 3 to anything anyone would feel Confident in. And, just for fun, I run examples of this for myself based on what I want to see in anyone’s confidence or why someone has achieved a goal of some sort that I feel inspired by.

Okay, the pieces.

Courage: Well, nothing happens unless Courage happens. Courage is doing something without knowing what is on the other side. It is buying a guitar at 45 (while your friends give you the eye) and not knowing if you can learn the damn thing in the first place. It is buying a house and saying that you’ll be able to pay for it for the next 30 years. It is asking a girl out not knowing if she’ll laugh at you or not. It is auditioning for a band not knowing if you are good enough.

Commitment is us saying to ourselves that you are in it for a long haul. There might be ups and downs, but you are hauling forward. No matter what happens you will figure the shit out and end up on the other side. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Capabilities is you sharpening your sword. It is getting the necessary skills, wisdom and application of them in order for you to become the best at a task that you can be.

You see, we can’t have one without the other. You have to have all 3 to be Confident in something.

If you are commited to playing the guitar and work on your Capabilities, but are afraid to jam with people (lacking Courage), you will never be Confident in it.

Here’s a flip scrpit. Let’s say you are are always up to playing with anyone (Courage), you can keep constantly looking for friends to jam with (Commitment), but if you never develop your skills (Capabilities), you will never feel Confident, because who wants to jam with people when you feel like you can’t play anything.

Of course, this goes way beyond music and you can apply these 3 to being Confident in anything. I think this is a good lesson. Give it some thought. It is pretty amazing to see and learn lessons from the past as you start reconstructing your past moves. You can see where you dropped the ball and which item (Courage, Commitment or Capabilities) cost you success.