Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Great Philip Rivers moment

My favorite Philip Rivers moment in the Chargers latest victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was not one of his two touchdown passes, but his 15-yard run for a first down. The sheer passion which he displayed at the end of the run is indicative of the kind of leadership I like to see from the starting quarterback of the San Diego Chargers:

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Michael Brecker-Pat Metheny Quartet excerpt

I may have mentioned this before, but my favorite overall jazz guitarist is Pat Metheny. The video clip below has an excellent example of Metheny showing how it's done:

Michael Brecker Pat Metheny Quartet : Timeline

Getting back into jazz guitar

I recently switched my role in our band from bassist/keyboardist to guitarist/keyboardist, thus opening up more possibilities for the dual guitar textures along the lines of bands such as Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky, and Mono.

As a result of the switch, I've once again become interested in jazz guitar. Now, our band is not a jazz band nor is it a jazz-rock fusion band. However, I do have some fondness for that genre of music, and the study of jazz is one of the most comprehensive means to develop improvisational skills that can be applied to rock and other contemporary styles of music. I'm going the route of self-teaching at this point, as I have had lessons with teachers in the past - enough to know what I'm doing on the guitar (at least I like to think so), though I'm not ruling out studying with a master improvisor or composer/theorist in the future.

The books I am using at this time:

Robert Conti's Source Code Series - I actually bought this series a couple of years ago. Since I already have these books, I will primarily be studying jazz improvisation for guitar out of these. I'm obviously still on Vol. 1 (Jazz Lines) of the series. I agree with what has been presented so far, that in the study of jazz improvisation, it is more useful to focus on chord progressions rather than individual chords, as what seems to be the tendency in other jazz theory books. For example, if you are presented with the common ii-V-I progression, it is more useful to identify the major scale that those chords are built on, and improvise using that scale, instead of trying to memorize the tones of every chord individually.

Sheets Of Sound, Vol. I
- A relatively new guitar method book, though I think of it more as a reference book than a book for studying guitar, due to the sheer volume of information ($30 gets you 300 pages!). The author, Jack Zucker, has a jazz background, but the book is written for a general audience. The book presents numerous unusual guitar fingering ideas that feel awkward at first but can help the guitarist break out of ruts. The way the guitar is typically laid out too easily tempts guitar players into playing what is only in their comfort zone, and thus allowing their fingers to dictate the music, instead of the other way around. The sweep picking is similar to what was presented in Frank "King of Sweep Picking" Gambale's method books, though I have yet to see material that presents sweep-picked arpeggios in the context of jazz chord progressions, which Gambale's books do have.

Both authors promise super chops to the reader. However, what neither author can do for the guitar student is make sure that student has the physical setup to be able to develop "super chops", unless that student is already taking meeting either author at a physical location for lessons. By "physical setup", I mean an umbrella term for the student's physical approach to the instrument, in particular how the fretting hand is being used and how the pick is being manipulated (use of a pick is pretty much needed to maximize the material in these books). Physical setup is the area where a good teacher can really, really help. The fretting hand has to be positioned in a way that allows for horizontal stretches that are comfortable and without strain. The Sheets Of Sound book in particular has numerous fingerings that require stretches over 6 frets or more. The more you can stretch your fretting hand, the wider the variety of chords and melodies you can play. As for the use of the pick, you have to find the right balance between holding the pick solidly enough to play an articulate note, and holding the pick in a relaxed enough manner to facilitate high-speed sweep and alternate picking. In short, the ability to play as relaxed as possible, using only enough tension as necessary to produce the desired musical result, is what is needed to really develop "super chops". I cannot brag too much at this time about my own chops, though I can sweep-pick a few arpeggios and scale runs with reasonable articulation.

I also have other learning resources such as Jimmy Bruno's No-Nonsense Jazz Guitar DVD and a couple of Jamey Aebersold Playalong/Method Book/CD sets. However, my self-teaching will be focused on the aforementioned two titles - the Conti books for the jazz theory, and the Zucker book for generalized technique practice, to whet my appetite for more "modern" style lines, as exemplified by the likes of Scott Henderson, Eric Johnson and Michael Brecker, than what is probably in Conti's books.

I'll try to report my progress. I hope to get around to installing Band In A Box soon to start practicing improvising, which is a different activity than practicing guitar technique and studying theory.