Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar from Lucas Reilly on Vimeo.

I was recently chosen as the subject of a photojournalism project by Ohio University student Lucas Reilly. Lucas is a former student and it was great to reconnect with him and have him shadow me for a few days. Not only did he impress mt with his photos, but he was amazingly professional and discrete while capturing these images.

Windy and Warm Transcription

I’ve always liked Chet’s performance of “Windy and Warm” on the Porter Wagoner Show television show from 1961 and finally got around to transcribing it all. Check out the sneaky maneuvers at bars 32-33 and 50-51 that combine open strings and fretted notes. Both sections require a pretty good stretch but they’re doable with some work. Give her a spin and let me know what you think. There are a few slides that I haven’t notated and probably a few corrections waiting to be spotted. And if you enjoy the transcription please consider putting a buck in the tip jar.

Windy and Warm – Chet Atkins PDF

Practicing Guitar and the Strategy of Convenience

This is the first post in a series based on concepts I’ve been introduced to by the books Better Than Before and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I also highly recommend her weekly podcast Happier.

What is The Strategy of Convenience?

Not every strategy will work for everyone, but this one is nearly universal. It’s known as the The Strategy of Convenience. Simply put, the easier you make it to do something the more likely you are to do it. Far more likely. In Better than Before, Gretchen gives an example: “…in one cafeteria, when an ice-cream cooler’s lid was left open, thirty percent of diners bought ice cream, but when diners had to open the lid, only fourteen percent bought ice cream, even though the ice cream was visible in both situations.” Crazy right? That’s a big change. So let’s think about ways to make practicing more convenient. Below is a short list of things that have worked for me.

Designate an area in for practice

Think about where you are currently practicing in your home and whether or not it invites you to play music and be creative. It doesn’t need an entire room – even just a corner will work but it should be someplace that makes you feel happy and is relatively free from distractions. If you don’t feel good about your current location you may want to reconsider where you practice or just rearrange things to better suit you. For example: even though I have a room dedicated to keeping my guitars, I’ve found that I prefer to practice in my kitchen because it is the brightest and sunniest room in the house. Because I do want to spend more time in my music room, I’m currently rearranging the room so I can always sit and practice with a view of the sky from the window. and planning to put on a fresh coat of paint to brighten things up. Most people only practice at home, but I have had a few adult students that keep a guitar in their office and practice for a while during their lunch hour.

Take your guitar out of the case

This is the number one problem that many students have. They come home from their lesson, put the case in their room and forget all about it. Remember the ice cream example? If people were half as likely to buy ice cream with the cooler lid closed, how much less likely do you think you’ll be to practice if your guitar is in its case? So from now on do this: As soon as you get home, take your guitar – and all of your lesson materials – out of the case and leave them in your designated practice spot. You don’t have to start practicing right then, but this way they’ll be ready to play whenever you feel the urge. I call this “making an accommodation for my future self.” Do you remember the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? The guys use time-travel loops to set up many of their successes.

Bill: “After the report we’ll time travel back to two days ago, steal your dad’s keys and leave them here!”

Ted: “Where?”

Bill: “I don’t know. How about behind that sign? That way, when we get here now, they’ll be waiting for us.” [picks up the keys] “See?”

Ted: “Whoa, yeah!”

I like to think that taking your guitar and lesson materials out of the case is kinda like that. You are momentarily time-travelling. Getting everything ready for “future you” to log some serious practice!

Accessories can make a difference

You don’t need much but having a few items can make your practice space more convenient. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Guitar Wall Hanger
  • This is my absolute favorite thing to recommend and it will make such a difference in your life. If you take your guitar out of the case you’ve got to have a safe place for it. Leaning a guitar against a piece of furniture just isn’t very secure. Personally, I like these guitar hangers by String Swing . They mount securely and do a great job of displaying your instrument at eye level so you’ll be even more tempted to play. I have one for every guitar. Yes, you could get a guitar stand but I really like getting the guitar up off the floor. It looks great, saves space, and keeps your axe out of the way of kids and pets.

  • Music Stand
  • People often try to skip out on buying a stand but this is really important! Trying to look at sheet music that is lying flat on a desk or bed is difficult and causes you to hunch over you guitar to see it. You can get an inexpensive stand for about $15 but if you are series look for a heavy-duty one. It will last longer and support heavier books, iPads, etc. There’s a reason every single room in a music school has a stand in it!

  • Chair
  • Make sure your chair is comfy and promotes good posture. If you don’t like sitting in it, try something else.

  • Guitar pick bowl
  • Get a little bowl or ashtray or something similar and put some of your guitar picks there so you’ll always have them handy. Keep a separate tin of guitar picks in your case or gig bag. Like this Altoids tin pick pack.

    Do you face other issues that seem to make practicing inconvenient? Do you have other strategies you use for making it more convenient? Let me know in the comments!

    Watch Gretchen Rubin’s video on The Strategy of Convenience

    My Top Albums of 2015

    A short list of my favorite releases from 2015.

    Bill Frisell Guitar in the Space Age

    Technically this one was released in 2014 but I didn’t get around to it until this year so I’m including it here. This is mostly a collection of trippy instrumental covers of the guitar music that influenced Frisell when he was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s. Songs like “Telstar” and “Surfer Girl.” The album features clean guitar and pedal steel sounds awash in a haze of delay and reverb. I’m not sure everyone would enjoy it, but most guitarists probably will.

    Julian Lage Worlds Fair

    This is my absolute favorite album of 2015 and will probably become an all-time favorite. I was only peripherally aware of Julian Lage before attending a workshop at Denison University a few years ago. His chops and musicality were breathtaking to be sure and I had sought out his earlier recordings but I wasn’t prepared for this release. An intimately-recorded collection of works for solo acoustic guitar that are stylistically un-classifiable and virtuosic without being pretentious. It’s hard to know how much of the pieces are arranged and how much were improvised since Lage is such a skilled improviser and his playing always sounds so fresh and extemporaneous.

    Mark Knopfler Tracker

    Knopfler is one of my favorite musicians. I feel like everything about his work is underrated: his singing, his songwriting, and his guitar playing. Although my favorite album of his is the 2004 release Shangri-La – I still love virtually every one of the songs in this collection. I especially love the descending harmonies on the chorus section of “Skydiver,” the journal-like verses of “River Towns,” and the introspective musings of “Lights Of Taormina.”

    Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap The Silver Lining

    Okay, this is a weird one for me. I have never considered myself a Tony Bennett fan. Not when he was younger and certainly not as he aged and his voice became increasingly warbly. But when I heard this recording I was instantly charmed. Unlike his “Duets” albums that paired him with a different pop star on each song or his 2014 project with Lady Gaga, this is a very understated and casual affair that sounds like you’re sitting about 10 feet from Bennett and pianist Bill Charlap while they run arrangements in a small club. They are occasionally joined by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. Charlap’s playing is flawless and serves as a masterclass in accompaniment techniques and classic intros and endings for interested musicians. Bennett sounds perfectly relaxed and much less forced as he seems to when paired with another entertainer. And though it is no less warbly, his vocal quality and phrasing here instill each song with a nostalgic, sage, and melancholy beauty that has inexplicably turned me into a fan.

    John Pizzarelli Midnight McCartney

    I generally hate – and I do mean hate – hearing jazz covers of songs originally written by pop artists. Jazz musicians usually take so many liberties with the source material that the result ends up sounding barely recognizable or worse. In this case however, the arrangements were written by an artist who grew up actually listening to the songs and clearly loves them. Instead of attempting clever reharmonizations or other devices, the versions here reveal how easily Paul McCartney’s writing transcends stylistic boundaries. Without much alteration other than instrumentation and groove, songs are transformed into breezy bossa novas and lightly swinging pieces ornamented with just a dash of Pizzarelli’s virtuoso guitar playing. Hardcore McCartney fans might still regard the effort as schmaltz but I think this is a great re-imagining of his work that emphasizes the strength of his songwriting.

    John Scofield Past Present

    Once upon a time – in 1991 to be exact – John Scofield released a fantastic album titled called Meant to Be. Unlike rock groups, jazz artists tend put together different ensembles for each new project so it’s been awhile since the quartet from Meant to Be has been heard from. This release is mostly a sequel to that old record featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, drummer Bill Stewart, and bassist Larry Grenadier. (Bassist Marc Johnson was on the earlier release.) Scofield and Lovano compliment one another so well that they create a classic combination akin to peanut butter and jelly or bacon and eggs. The first two cuts are still my favorites: “Slinky” featuring a a medium-tempo 5/4 groove and “Chap Dance” that sounds like it might have been influenced by Aaron Copeland.

    Tommy Emmanuel It’s Never Too Late

    Like every guitar player, I love Tommy Emmanuel. Performing difficult pieces with ease and making easy pieces sound extraordinary, the worst thing I can say about him is that like Superman, he often seems a little too perfect. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing TE play in person several times and while his studio recordings never hold the excitement of his live performances they are always wonderful. My favorite selection from this album is called “Hope Street.”

    John Williams Star Wars: The Force Awakens

    Not long after Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, a friend asked: “Where was Williams’ score?” I had to agree that the score was somewhat less noticeable in the film than I seem to recall it being in many of the other films that John Williams had scored, but then again I had seen all of those other movies and listened to their soundtracks dozens of times. After listening to the new soundtrack I was happy to find that there are as many memorable cues as ever. Just as the film has taken familiar environments and events and turned them on their head, Williams has done the same. Many of the old familiar themes are here but at appear only in a deconstructed form or intertwined with new music. New character motifs will likely prove to be memorable as well, especially the playful and mysterious “Rey’s Theme.”