Newsletter Vol. 4 # 11 – September 15, 2011


Welcome to Volume 4, Issue #11 of Guitar Noise News!

In This Issue:

  • Greetings, News and Announcements
  • Guitar Noise Featured Artist
  • Topic of the Month
  • New Articles, Lessons, Reviews and Stuff
  • Great Advice from Great Teachers
  • Events Horizon
  • Random Thoughts

Greetings, News and Announcements

Welcome to the September 15 edition of Guitar Noise News, your free twice-a-month newsletter from Guitar Noise.

Hot on the heels of last issue’s news about Todd Mack playing in Taipei and Hong Kong, we are thrilled to get news from Tom Hess, longtime Guitar Noise contributor and highly respected guitar teacher, that he will be doing a world tour shortly with Italian metal band, Rhapsody of Fire. Tom joined Rhapsody of Fire for their summer festival shows in Europe this past summer and now is gearing up to play all over the globe.

You can read a lot more about this news in the Guitar Noise Interview with Tom Hess. Just follow the link in the “New Articles, Lessons, Reviews and Stuff” section below. And please join us in offering Tom a big round of congratulations with the upcoming tour. Be sure to check out Rhapsody of Fire should they come to your corner of the world.

Guitar Noise Featured Artist

Glen Campbell, who is hitting the road for one final “thank you tour” these last four months of 2011, is the Guitar Noise Featured Artist for the month of September. While many of you may know of Mr. Campbell’s career because of a single song, like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” the fact is that he has always been an incredible and much respected guitarist and musician. Read all about him on the Guitar Noise Profile Page.

Topic of the Month

Since September is traditionally the time when people start heading back to school, supposedly for the sake of an education, it seemed like a good idea to make the Guitar Noise Topic of the Month for September reflect the whole learning process. So we’re highlighting our “Strumming for Beginners” lessons this month. And, actually, these are great lessons to highlight at any time because rhythm is at the heart of guitar playing and you can’t spend enough time making your rhythm playing (that is, “playing in rhythm” as opposed to “not lead guitar playing”) as strong as you can.

Visit the Guitar Noise home page and check out all the lessons and articles you’ll find about our topic by clicking on the latest “Topic of the Month” up at the top of the middle of the home page, just below the blue banner.

New Articles, Lessons, Reviews and Stuff

Speed Secrets – Part 5
by Tom Serb

Now that we’ve covered all the basics of speed playing,Tom Serb concludes this series of “Speed Sectrets” with some important practice strategies that you’ll find useful.

Going For The Music: From Guitar Student To Guitar Player
by Jamie Andreas

Jamie Andreas’ offers her secrets to “going for the music,” helping your musical performances channel the very soul of music from you to your listeners.

An Interview With Tom Hess
by David Hodge

In this online interview, Tom Hess discusses how he joined the band Rhapsody of Fire as well as their upcoming album and what it’s like to be part of a world-wide tour.

Great Advice From Great Teachers

We’re thrilled to have Tom Serb rejoin us for this issue of Guitar Noise News. Here is the first of a two-part piece on “Language Based Soloing” and I hope you both enjoy it and learn from it:

Language-Based Soloing (Part 1)

When I teach improvisation to guitarists who’ve never done it before, very few launch right into it naturally. What’s much more common is a student freezing up – some won’t play anything at all; most will do a few notes, or even a few measures and then stop.

When I ask what’s wrong, the answer is always the same: “I don’t know what to do!”

Over the years I’ve been teaching (33 so far, and still having way too much fun to stop!) I’ve developed an approach that solves this problem with almost all students. I can’t take the credit for this – my kids helped me with my homework.

My youngest son now towers over me – he’s got me by a good eight inches in height. But I still remember when he was just a tiny thing, and starting to learn about his world. The thing that really helped my teaching was him learning to talk.

Children start talking by imitating. Momma hold the little one and says “mama” over and over. After ten thousand or so repetitions, the little one gurgles something that might sound a little bit like what she’s saying. Mama’s pleased. The little one notices. “Mama” starts tumbling from the little one’s lips whenever he or she wants someone to fuss over him or her. A linguist is born.

I remember wearing out the grooves in my Led Zeppelin albums, playing them over and over trying to imitate the sounds. Just like our little linguist, I had no idea what Jimmy was actually doing. But I tried and tried to imitate what I thought it sounded like, and every once in a while I’d succeed a bit – at least enough so I’d feel good. Music and language aren’t very different.

Just like Junior, I wasn’t really saying anything. I was just imitating, and not understanding what I was doing. But a lot of good guitarists started soloing just like I did. They imitate what they hear, and eventually internalize the sounds they make. It’s a long process – think about how long it took you to learn to speak, to build up a reasonable vocabulary. Years, right? Maybe you still stop to look up a word now and then (I know I still do, and I’ve been speaking English for quite a while). It’s a long road, and you’re never quite done.

Let’s skip ahead a bit in the child’s development. The big leap comes when he or she starts actually communicating – the point where the child figures out that they can ask for something.

And that starts with one word. It doesn’t even matter what that one word is! Your little one might say “want!” (and point to something), or “give!” (and point to something), or “now!” (and point to something). Whatever word they choose, they’ve communicated. This marks a massive shift in development: they’ve gone from using a word to gain approval to using one word to say something!

Saying something with music is what soloing is all about. When my kids reached that stage, I had one of those “Aha!” moments, and it changed the way I teach.

Think about how most teachers teach soloing: they show you a scale fingering, and say “now play”. I wouldn’t dream of tossing a two year old a dictionary and saying “just put together the words you want”. We’re giving too much information to be truly useful. Our students end up struggling in a ‘poke and pray’ manner, trying to find the combination that works right – and if they do, struggling some more to understand why it was right.

I know you’re not two years old. You might have learned a scale fingering or two (or ten or twenty), but I can assure you that taking the big step back to the very beginning of language acquisition will change the way you solo: you’ll be more deliberate about it, and actually communicate in music.

It starts with one word. In a musical context, that means it starts with one note. Every solo has to start somewhere, right? So start with one note. And stay on that one note. See what you can do with it.

I had an improvisation teacher in college who had me solo over five choruses of the blues using a single note. I hated the exercise. But I also had to admit it made me better. At the time, I thought he was getting me to focus on rhythm alone; it wasn’t until more than ten years later, when my oldest child began to talk, that I realized what he was doing: he was teaching me to speak in music.

One word = one note.

I want you to start by putting on a backing track. You’ll take any note from a scale you know “should” work over the chord progression, and you’ll use that note exclusively. But before you start, I want you to close your eyes and think about how a small child uses one word… they may say “give” (and point) with a soft, trembling, quiet voice and pleading eyes… or they may say “Give!” (and point, and stamp their feet and cry). They may fall sobbing to the floor, repeating “give, give, give….”.

Your note is your “give”, or your “now”, or your “want”, or your “need”, or your “mine”, or whatever other image works. Picture in your mind’s eye how many ways you can use that one word in different ways.

Now play. Wring everything you can out of that one note – rhythm, volume, duration of the sound, timbre (the quality of the tone). I’ll wait.

How did that feel?

I’ll bet you got to know that one note better than you ever have. You’ve explored some of the possibilities. You’ve made it your friend. You now know what that note can do.

And if you’re interested in more on soloing, be sure to check out the Guitar Noise Topic Page on Solos. After reading this essay from Tom, you might find our series on “From Scales to Solos,” Part 2 will be particularly helpful in preparing you for the second part of Tom’s series.

Events Horizon

The Wishing Well, a fantastic Australian band has hit the shores of America! They’ll be playing tonight, Thursday, September 15 at the European Street Cafe, located at 1704 San Marco Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. If you have the chance, please welcome this wonderful band to the United States. You’ll have a great time!

Tom McLaughlin is playing with his old band, Slightly Offensive, this Saturday, September 17 at Shakers, located at 121 West Stevenson Road in Ottawa, Illinois from 10:00pm-1:30am.

Lee Hodge and his band Doesn’t Madder are going to be in Newton, North Carolina at The Artist’s Cafe (100 North Main Street) this Saturday, September 17. Show goes from 8 PM until midnight. The following weekend they’ll be at the Do Drop In, located at 6224 Highway 421 South in Mountain City, Tennessee. They’re playing both Friday and Saturday (September 23 and 24) and both shows start at 9 PM.

Random Thoughts

One of my younger students came today with an even younger brother who was doing some schoolwork, being putting together old maps, such as those from before Columbus’ voyages. He called them “maps from before we knew everything.” For whatever reason that struck me as hilarious. And not just for the obvious humor.

You see, I can remember knowing everything. Or at least thinking I did. No, that’s not quite right because I would never think that. I don’t think anyone truly does.

But most people certainly go through a phase in life where, while they don’t think they know everything, they assuredly act as if they do. I definitely did. And,truth be told, I was not a good person to be around or be friends with at that time.

Eventually, though (and, again hopefully like most people), I grew out of it. If anything, it seems that one is likely to tailspin in the other direction as one grows older. Meaning, the older you get the more you realize that there’s a universe of things out there that you have no clue about.

Learning and playing music bring that home to me on a daily basis. It seems impossible for a day to go by where I don’t learn something new or discover some music I’ve never heard before or uncover some layer or depth to a song I’ve been listening to for ages. And doing so is thrilling.

But it’s also impossible if you are in the “know everything” mindset. Maybe that’s why we’re supposed to grow out of it – what could be duller than knowing everything? It’s hard not to feel sympathy towards anyone who does, because he or she can’t be surprised or excited or challenged.

If you care about such things, it’s always a good idea to take stock of your mindset from time to time. Have you listened to any new music of late? Gone to see any shows? You should be able to find something worth enjoying (and learning) from any experience. Not only musical but with all your interactions, be they personal or virtual.

Until our next newsletter, play well and play often. And for those of you going out and about, my best wishes for safe travel.

And, as always,