Site update

Hi all,

I’ve given the website a bit of an update as I felt it was time! I’ve added an FAQ page and included some new testimonials too.

I am currently very busy with both bands that I play in (Swing from Paris and Moscow Drug Club). With both bands we are looking to record and are in the process of putting together final arrangements for new albums. All very exciting!

One gig I am very much looking forward to is the 22nd March at St Georges’, Bristol with Moscow Drug Club.  For info see here. 

Andy

Rock school Entry Deadline

For any of my students taking their Rockschool exam in the October-December exam period, then don’t forget the deadline for entry is October 1st.

Click here for further info.

Good luck to all my students sitting their exam in this window.

 

Caravan Gypsy Jazz backing track

 

 

Here is a backing track that I have made for the song ‘Caravan’. This is a gypsy jazz style version with a samba/latin A section and swingin’ B.  It is not in the original key of F minor, but the key of D minor as this the key it often played in when used in a  Django style. This backing track is inspired by the Rosenberg Trio version.

Gear demo: Fender Seafood green rosewood Telecaster

Recently purchased a new guitar direct from Fender at the Cornoa factory. Here is my first gear demo of this very guitar. In time I will put up a blog about my guitar related sightseeing in California, I’d certainly recommend it!

Here is the demo, how do you think it sounds?

Sweet Georgia Brown

Haven’t shared much on here from the main band I play in, Swing from Paris.  Last night we had a band practice and decided to arrange this old jazz standard from the 1920s. Here is the end result:

 

James May: The Reassembler, the electric guitar

For anyone that missed it last night, James May put a disassembled guitar back together on his show ‘The Reassembler’. One to watch on your own, don’t subject a loved one to it!

Click here for Iplayer link

No surprise he picked a stratocaster style guitar to do this with. Although, I thought he might have more trouble with that floating bridge and we will never know if the intonation was correct, either way it made an interesting, if slightly nerdy watch.

 

 

Book review: Talent is Overrated

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I recently finished reading a book by Geoff Colvin that tried to explain what enables someone to become world class in their field, whether it be music, business or sport. Written by Geoff Colvin, I was initially put off by a quote from Donald Trump on the front cover! Seeing beyond this, what followed was an interesting take on how to excel on your instrument. Looking  at successful people from all areas of society, the main premise was that talent wasn’t the factor, but that hard work was the key to achieving in any field.  With studies in relation to musicians it was how much they practiced, with examples from studies on how on average it took twelve hundred hours of practice to reach grade 5.

Colvin dispels the idea that factors we can’t change determine our ability or future ability in a domain. Whether it be genetic or our memory or IQ, he argues that people are not born with a gift, that it is instead hard work and practicing in the correct way that results in high levels of performance.

In relation to music this raises the question of if you are going to work really hard at practicing, what do you practice and how do you approach it? This is where deliberate practice comes in, the idea of tailoring your practice routine to your specific needs. This could be as simple as a guitar player being aware that they struggle with playing in time and that they then devise a specific plan of exercises to work improve this element of their musicianship. This goes back to something I blogged about last year; focussing on your mistakes and practicing what you are weak at, rather than doing more of what you can already do. Colvin summed up deliberate practice as:

‘Deliberate practice is characterised by several elements, each worth examining. It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it is highly demanding mentally…and it isn’t much fun’

Whether it is fun is open to debate! I find repetitive practice fun and always vary how I practice things to ensure this. For me the most important aspect is how specific a practice session is at addressing a player’s areas for improvement.  He goes on to add how the greatest performers are able to ‘isolate remarkably specific aspects of what they do and focus on just those things until they are improved; then it’s onto the next aspect’.  In relation to the guitar this could be something as small as how you hold your plectrum, how you fret notes that cross strings or how you pick scales. Once an area is identified it then comes down to a lot of repetition with a specific focus on those weaknesses. This is only useful if you are observing what you are doing, rather than just merely repeating something.  Recording yourself or asking for your teacher’s or another musician’s opinion could help here.  Mindless repetition isn’t what we’re after, the deliberate element of the practice is focusing on specific ways of doing something. This kind of practice requires a tremendous amount of concentration. Colvin found that top violinists could only sustain 3.5 hrs a day of this kind of practice. With the guitar, muscle memory is a blessing and pain, it can lead us into mindless practice and repetition of an exercise.

Colvin goes onto add that ‘ultimately the performance is always conscious and controlled, not automatic’. This is where the word deliberate is important, mindless repetition isn’t guaranteed to help, as you might be repeating something incorrectly! Instead, repetition should be done with constant adjustments and feedback to yourself on the technique/ passage you are trying to learn. With music this might be something physical like the angle of your wrist, or the timing or a new technique. Recording yourself or filming yourself practicing could be a good option here. Colvin argues that those that go onto perform at exception levels have a a stronger sense of perception and make finer discriminations to improve on the finer details. This a presumably a result of habitually practicing in this way.

How could you employ deliberate practice?

  • Identify practice goals (this could be improving specific weaknesses or an achievement like a grade or performance).
  • Work these goals backwards e.g. what practice activities will you need to achieve them?
  • Work on what you can’t do. Practice things in different ways.
  • Practice consciously, giving yourself constant feedback/ self observation(try not to let the feedback be overly positive or negative, instead, be objective/factual)
  • Continue to develop your knowledge of the instrument (this could be harmony, repertoire/ listening/watching other guitar players).
  • Remember that any top players within the field will have put in the same kind of hard work that you’re going to have to do.

Overall, I agree with Colvin’s stance on practice, it is comforting for a beginner to know that sheer hard work and will power can put them on the right track to being accomplished at their instrument.  This one quote really stood out to me:

Auer: ‘Pracitice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in one and a half hours’.

This links back to the argument of quality over quantity. For me practicing with a high level of conscious self observation/feedback is essential.  Is it time to spring clean your practice routine?  I better get back to my own practice…..

 

Rock Around the Clock

 

So I recently picked up a new jazz box, an ES300.   When I was researching about the guitar as well as discovering that Django used the model on tour with Ellington in ’46, I also found out that it was the guitar that ‘Rock around the clock’ was cut on.  In a break in practice today, I thought I’d have some fun and have a go at playing the iconic solo. The guitar player on the record, Danny Cedrone was a session player and paid just $21 dollars for the session and died (aged 33) 2 months later after falling down some stairs. I also didn’t know that it was originally a B side and only found popularity due to being used in a film (Blackboard Jungle). The solo is also lifted off an early Bill Haley and his Comets tune from 1952, called ‘Rock the Joint’.  Danny never got to enjoy the popularity of this song or his solo, are the chromatic runs the influence of Django?

This tune is just a blues in A. For the A chord it uses an inversion with the major 3rd in the bass (A/C#). For the D chord it used a D9/F# and similar for the E it uses an E9/G#. If you listen carefully he often slides down the chord shape at the end of each rhythm phrase. For those attempting the solo, the first few bars (the crazy bit!) are all semiquavers/16th notes. I found it easiest just to keep the right hand going alternate picking. Try to avoid having a tense picking hand or too firm a grip on the plectrum. For the final chromatic run, for me it works best with fingers 1,2 and 3 instead of all 4. I think this comes from my Gyspy jazz playing, as this is often how chromatic runs are played.

Wes Montgomery: Mi Cosa

 

A student of mine put me onto this wonderful instrumental by Wes Montgomery, called Mi Cosa (My Thing in Spanish). Wes apparently recorded this in 1963 but it lay unused as an unaccompanied guitar piece for some time.

Guitar: 2015 D’angellico Exl1. The guitar is plugged into logic using the clean jazz setting. Didn’t fancy getting out the mics today…

E Funk/Rock blues backing track

My second foray into creating backing tracks resulted in this 12 bar E blues with a funk/rock feel. It has the following structure:

  • Twice round the changes (standard 12 bar blues)
  • Twice round the changes with stops on beat 1 of the first four bars
  • Once round the changes with a funkier feel
  • Twice round the changes where the rhythm parts have changed to a 16th note feel, creating the feeling of doubling the tempo
  • Once round the changes with stops on every bar
  • Once round the changes with a heavier feel
  • Coda (repeat last line 3 times)

I hope people find it useful for practice, the lead breaks hopefully break it up and make it more interesting than just the same feel all the way through. I am trying to create these to feel more like songs to play over than just a backing track. In terms of scales, there are a myriad of options. For me mixolydian works best due to the use of 9th chords instead of plain 7ths.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated or suggestions for future backing tracks as I am trying to do one every month or so.