Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Grand Candy Seeks Bassist

My band, The Grand Candy, is looking for a bassist. Here's what things looked and sounded like without a bassist a few weeks ago:

Know anybody good?

Please send 'em our way.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jam Class: Caught On Tape

Here's a little video evidence of the Jam Class performance on Saturday at Bangkok Blues. Some of these students have only been playing less than a year!

We've been having a lot of fun with these Rolling Stones classics. We had a great time Saturday night, and I dare say these overachieving DC peeps make me very proud.

Love In Vain:

Brown Sugar:

Not a Stones tune, but I think these two guitar newbies had a lot of fun with Oasis' Wonderwall. A little nerves are in order for two guys who've been playing guitar less than a year. I tried to make them feel as comfortable as possible:

Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weaving A Little Sympathy for The Devil

I am very excited about the Second Annual DC Guitar Keith Richards' Birthday Party: Happy Birthday, Keith Richards. Seriously. I'll be playing some of my own songs with my band, The Grand Candy and jamming some classic rock with some of my students from Jam Class.

One of the Rolling Stones songs we've been playing in Jam Class is 'Sympathy for The Devil', because I want to teach my students about what Keith calls 'the ancient art of weaving'.

The way Keith talks about weaving, or playing independent rhythms that intelligently and bootyliciously interlock, reminds me of James Brown. If you want to learn about this, you could do well to check out Funkmasters by Allan Slutsky and Chuck Silverman.*

This also reminds me of what I learned of Ewe drumming from David Locke at Tufts. Check out this video of an Ewe music and dance performance. When the drum ensemble gets going, see if you can pick out what the individual instruments are doing:

Keith actually does this weaving with guitars, but for now, we'll start with the percussion and bass groove on 'Sympathy For The Devil':

To anyone familiar with progamming a drum machine, or anyone familiar with a grid notation for rhythm, here's a rhythmic grid showing the different parts in the intro.

It looks like a kind of woven tapestry. Hmmm....
A sort of rhytmic notation, even for those who don't read music.

The first thing you hear is Handdrum** in the left channel for two measures.

Then The Conga joins along in the third and fourth measures.

Maracas join on measures 5 through 8. Sometimes, when things get hot, they play triplets. Supposedly, Bill Wyman played the maracas.

Then, what I called the 'guiro' part.

Finally, after a verse or two, the Bass enters, playing clavé, or 'rhythmic key' of the song.

OK, gotta get back to work on the '2nd Annual Keef Gig'. Hopefully we'll see you there.

*My only complaint about that book is that they didn't transcribe the horn parts for guitar.

**I don't know what kind of drum that is. And I actually think it's being played with a stick. But whatever. I don't have time to re-draw this this week. That's the price you pay for analog. Let it Bleed.

Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Follow me on Twitter: @diddleybow

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stay Tuned for Keith - Tune in for Margot

I'm afraid I've been a little busy since the Hank gig getting Jam Class ready for our next performance.

Please stay tuned for details on the 2nd Annual Keith Richards Birthday Party at Bangkok Blues on Saturday, December 18th.

In the meantime, here's some video of a couple of Jam Class numbers from the Hank gig in September, featuring my friend and music student, Margot MacDonald. Thanks to Den Holliden for editing and posting these videos.

Radiohead's 'Creep':

Led Zeppelin's 'Bring it On Home':

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Who Is Hank Williams?

Friday, September 17th DC Guitar presents "Who is Hank Williams?":

In an effort to answer this question musically, my two Jam Class bands, as well as my own band, The Grand Candy, will perform a number of Hank's most famous songs in the context of some of the greatest songs of the 20th century. Stay tuned for details about the setlist!

'Who Is Hank Williams?'

Preparing for the show, I've been reading Colin Escott's fine biography of the man.

Spoiler Alert! This passage sums it all up:

The final paradox is that Hank Williams left no journals, almost no letters, and no extended interviews, and the people who knew him best have to admit that on some level they didn't know him at all.

Yet, for all the ambiguity and unknowableness, Hank Williams appears almost desperately real to us through his music. He escaped the shame of seeing his drunks and dalliances splashed over the tabloids, but left a life diarized in verses sung with such riveting conviction that we feel as though we know him well.

At his best, he froze a moment or a feeling in terms simple enough to register instantly yet meaningful enough to listen to forever. No one in any field of popular music can hope to do more.
Please join us on Hank's 87th birthday for an evening of memories, mirth and music:

DC Guitar Presents "Who is Hank Williams?"
10pm, Friday, September 17th
Bangkok Blues
926 W. Broad St.
Falls Church, VA 22046

Reserve a table now online or by calling the venue at (703) 534-0095.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Conquer Your Fear of Music: Be Playful

New music making is a fraught process. The fear of making a mistake can be paralyzing. The fight or flight response may kick in almost as soon as you pick up a mysterious new instrument: foreign, out of tune, or ill timed sounds are scary. What is scarier sounding than fretting flat? Sounding Sharp.

What's the solution? Going very slowly, very gently, and listening. Taking music lessons, perhaps. Having someone to guide you through the process may assist not only with getting better, faster results, but also with helping you get through that flight or flight problem. The latter is very important to the former.

However, it's tricky:

Taking music lessons is a humbling process. This creates not a little bit of fear in the lesson studio. Imagine that, in a way, a music lesson is like going to the doctor or psychiatrist. You are submitting yourself for examination, evaluation, diagnosis, and a prescription. Or, let's call it, in today's jargon: a wellness plan.

What creates the fear for some here? The better analogy is probably the therapist. Listening to and playing of music is a highly personal, deeply emotive human behavior. Our own personal musical experience is deeply emotional: in some way, it exists in a murky place, deep inside of each of us. And can be very scary to have someone, anyone, a stranger, particularly an 'expert' look deeply inside you.

This is why, on my lessons site, I call my lessons 'seriously fun':

I try to make sure that both the student and I remember the operative verb for making music: to play. To remain true to the spirit of the verb, I endeavor to find more creative and playful ways for students to interact with their instruments and to be musical, all the while cultivating fundamental skills. The more I work on this, the better my students get.

'Don't Practice...' perhaps I will start to encourage my adult students, instead to "play." Kids seem to have no problem finding a playful place to work on their musicality, but the upwardly mobile set that I see in D.C. do. One of the most important things I do is

Cultivate a playful practice on your own by thinking of your practice as exploration. When you make your next mistake, and the hairs go up on the back of your neck, do this:

Laugh at yourself. You made a boo-boo. To err is human. Thank goodness you are not a robot.

You breathe!

So, breathe through the impatience and frustration, and then listen to the sound of your mistake in you mind. What happened? The only way not to repeat this mistake is to be sure you understand the nature of it: those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

Perhaps, if you can, repeat it so that you can understand the nature of your mistake.
Who knows?
It's possible that you will actually like the sound.

In jazz, there are 'no wrong notes, only poor choices'. What kind of choice did you make? How was it different than the choice that you intended? Is the problem musical or technical? Left hand or right hand?

Then, after you evaluate that mistake, figure out what you need to correct in your performance: slowly, gently perform the musical passage you are working on one time. Breathe between repetitions, and during the playing of music. Repeat as necessary.

If it's not working, put the guitar down... go for a walk... listen to some music....

Then, gently and very slowly, come back and try it again.

Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Follow me on Twitter: @diddleybow

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Last Minute Candy Gig:

Breaking news: The Candy has been asked to fill in this Friday night at The Red And The Black in D.C. Due to scheduling, we are doing this gig as a rock duo, White Stripes or Black Keys style, if you will. I'll be playing a lot of slide, fat and low baritone. The musical freedom afforded by having only one harmonic instrument will be very enjoyable. Come down and check it out!

Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Take Lessons?

Occasionally, at cocktail parties, I am asked this question:

"Why take lessons?"

My second best answer for this is: Music has been taught, one on one, for tens of thousands of years. That's how it is done.

There are exceptions, but most often, these exceptions are placed in bountiful musical surroundings. They may not take 'lessons' or have a 'teacher' per se, but they learn the musical language in the method about which every language teacher effuses: they learn by immersion. So, if you can afford to quit your job, run away, and start a band, go for it. That is, indeed, how it is done.

If you can't afford to do that, get yourself an instrument, find some guidance, and get going. It's always better late than never, but it's never too soon to start.

My best, simplest, most succinct answer for "Why take lessons?":

"I do."

Learning music is a practice, and there isn't an end to the road. I revel in continuing to learn music. Here is a list of my current teachers. Really, they should each get their own post. And perhaps they will. I have some other teachers I'd like to thank, too, so I'll be back with a post about my earlier teachers.

My Current Teachers:

W. A. Mathieu

Allaudin, as I call him, is a genius, who is famous in many circles. He was one of the founders of the legendary 'Second City' comedy group, as its musical director. John Coltrane called him 'one of the best minds in music theory' or something like that. His book Harmonic Experience has been hailed as 'The Rosetta Stone of music'.

I'm lucky to have found him, and even luckier still that he will entertain my music and musical questions twice a month via speakerphone. His tutelage is invaluable to me.

Mick Goodrick

Mick was my teacher at New England Conservatory, and the whole reason I went to N.E.C. I should give a quick shout out to Eric Byers, one of my informal teachers, for introducing me to Mick. Mick's book, The Advancing Guitarist, is considered a seminal work in Jazz Guitar education circles. I make a point to see Mick when I am in Boston, and he always has excellent suggestions for enhancing my creativity and my knowledge of the guitar.

Larry Snitzler

Larry is a fantastic teacher of music and classical guitar technique. If you want to learn classical technique and repertoire, look no further. Larry is your man. I don't see him as often as I wish I could. However, his mentoring on teaching and technique issues has been, and continues to be, very helpful. He is a wonderful human being, and a good friend.

Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Follow me on Twitter: @diddleybow

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Grand Candy

It's been a few years since I felt like being in or promoting a band. Making music is a wonderful thing. Finding like minded musicians another thing. Schlepping gear and cajoling a fanbase are something else altogether.

I've finally found a few like minded musicians in the D.C. area, and the result, currently, is something akin to Gospel Death Metal.

Two songs, available for free download now at the Candy's ReverbNation page (or through the magic of Facebook) are the yin and yang of the eternal question:

Salvation or Damnation?

'Made A Devil' is a fire and brimstone blues song of the 'I done her wrong' and now there are 'Hellhounds On My Trail' variety. Hell hath, apparently, exactly the fury of a woman scorned.

'I Need Liftoff' is the story of an angel fallen from grace. There are no guarantees for angels, even, apparently.
These tunes are not light reading: this is some heavy, heavy music. To wit, the gear I'm going to have to schlepp in order to reproduce this sound live will be mammoth. My back hurts just thinking about it.

Please check out The Grand Candy for yourself: If you are willing to be cajoled into joining The Candy's ReverbNation fan list, you get a free download of these songs. Please join! But don't say we didn't warn you first:

DC Guitar, Daniel Cohn and The Grand Candy assume no medical or fiduciary responsibility if these songs bend your mind. Please consult your physician if you have a heart condition or other health condition that precludes strenuous musical activity. How do you say Caveat Emptor when the tunes are free? Enjoy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Look Ma, No Frets:
The Vibrating String

I've been playing guitar for 30 years. For nearly 25 of those years, I told myself that I would not add slide guitar to my practice regimen. I didn't have a good enough ear, I thought. And I didn't have the time.

I was wrong about the my ear, it turns out. Learning to play slide guitar has been the best ear training I have ever practiced, aside from singing pure harmony over a drone. Careful attention to listening to the vibrating string on either side of the slide has opened my ears and deepened this guitarist's understanding of harmony.

I was right, however, about not having enough time for slide. Ever since I started practicing slide, I don't want to do anything else. So now I have a real time crunch. Playing slide in tune feels fantastic, and the benefits are manifest in all of your playing, not just your slide playing.

The first step to playing slide, in my honest opinion, is to learn about the vibrating string, and the harmonic series contained in it. Musicians from Pythagoras to Sonny Landreth have made the most of this practice. This is a lesson where I truly wish I could make a video. If only I did not hate being on camera so much.

Despite the mis-spelling in the video title, here is the best video I could find on how to physically produce harmonics on a guitar string.

This video shows and describes how to produce the first overtone or harmonic by placing your finger exactly half way between the nut and the bridge of your guitar. Playing a harmonic at exactly one half of the string length, the string will resonate an octave higher than playing the open string. You have a visual aide to find this: the twelfth fret of your guitar.

Practice that a little bit. Then check out this very old school visual aide: a drawing from my notebook. Placing a fretting finger lightly at the locations suggested in this drawing will teach you the harmonic series: the song that any vibrating string produces. In solfege: do, do, sol, do mi, sol, ta, do.

These are the first 8 vibrations on the fifth string of your guitar, the first 8 of this string's Harmonic Series. Getting to know these harmonics brings you in touch, experientially, with the physical laws of music. On each I have written the exact frequency of each note in Hertz, the solfege name of each note using the system of movable do, and very approximate fret locations for the other harmonics.

How do you find the other harmonics on a string?

The trick is this: approximate fret locations for these harmonics are given in diamonds above each line. Harmonics have nothing to do with frets. They are at equal divisions of the string. Frets confuse the matter. The 12th fret harmonic is the only one that is exactly over the metal fret. The other harmonics are at locations that aren't quite at the frets. The 5th and 7th fret harmonics are about 2% off, so I haven't notated them as approximate. 2%, IMHO, is close enough.

Look at the bottom four lines of the drawing, showing you the locations of harmonics at 1/5, 1/6, 1/7 and 1/8 of the string length:

You will find these harmonics at the 'approximate fret locations' I have notated. The fourth fret harmonic isn't anywhere near the fourth fret, for example. Learning about this will help you to play a lot more in tune, whether you are using a slide or not.

There is a lot to talk about in this drawing, but I have to go practice. (See what I mean about Slide being time consuming?) I will be back to discuss more.

Please feel free to post questions and I will do my best to sort them out. In the meantime, here are a few other links that may be helpful on this subject:

The Rosetta Stone of Music:

Some practical advice on producing harmonics:

Another Youtube Vid:

Tickets to Sonny Landreth at the Birchmere Tonight, Saturday May 29th:

Now Go Play Guitar!

Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Follow me on Twitter: @diddleybow

Saturday, May 08, 2010

An Indestructible Effects Box:
Visual Sound's New V2 Series

I have no idea how this pedal sounds, but Johnny Hiland endorses Visual Sound pedals, and in my honest estimation, his tone does not suck.

That was the only knowledge I had of these pedals until I saw this completely dude-tastic video of Bob Weil testing their new pedal housing after it has been run over by the band van.

There's no punking these pedals, it seems:

Nicely done, gentlemen.
Nicely done.

I don't know if I really need one of those pedals, but now I definitely want one.

Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Monday, April 26, 2010

Drumming Saved My Neck
Paradiddle This:
Drumming on Both Sides of the Brain

Last February, I started practicing drums every day so that I could keep up with my guitar students in my first Jam Class. I've always wanted to drum, so I got myself a set of Roland V-Drums for my apartment and set about practicing.

Here are some of the beautiful unintended consequences of learning an instrument as an adult, all good for my health:

1) I've lost about 15 lbs. Lifting your legs over and over is great exercise.

2) This has been very humbling in a very good way. I've become more keenly aware of the timelines and tribulations of learning a new instrument as an adult. This has been very informative to my teaching. I've got a lot more understanding of the issues at play for adults learning a new skill.

3) Turns out, I may know my [¡BLEEP!] from my elbow, but it took getting a drumset to teach me my neck from my elbow: I've located a bad habit I've been searching for in my guitar technique for years. I've had problems off and on over the years with what I thought was left elbow/forearm tension. Ever since the fight or flight response kicked in when I went to music school. Fear of making mistakes can literally paralyze you, and I know this first hand. When stressed either by life or by the music I was making, I'd feel tense, sore, or like I couldn't feel my hands.

When I started drumming, I started noticing a particular feeling I was familiar with: in my neck. All these many years I've been unnecessarily tightening some muscles in my neck. I've taught myself this bad habit real well, and it's going to take some time to undo. It'll likely never go away completely, especially when stressed... sigh. But with the help of some exercise, and most importantly, some awareness, it's getting way better.

4) I'm engaging both sides of my brain: Drumming is uniquely ambidextrous. To boot, you even use your feet. Both of them! Doing different things! So I'm getting to know my body anew.

For drums-as-exercise purposes, I started setting up my drumset somewhat symmetrically, so that I can practice everything isomorphically. I wanted to be able to play a drum pattern, and then nearly immediately, play it with mirror image. Like the drummer rudiment, the paradiddle:

The above paradiddle is two limbs, and the first half of the diddle is mirror image of the second half. The two halves make a sort of body puzzle palindrome.

I wanted to be able to play the entire drumset like this, so that I could play all my patterns backwards and forwards. With all four limbs.

WHY is a very good question. I arrived at this train of thought because my drumming heroes are Stewart Copeland, Bun E. Carlos and Ringo Starr. Stewart is left handed, but plays on a right handed kit. Bun has performed with Cheap Trick on both a left handed and a right handed drumset. He goes both ways!! So Stewart plays backwards, Bun is ambi-drum-sterous, and Ringo says something very interesting about his 'handedness' here.

Since all three of these drummers are obviously geniuses, and since drummers aren't typically known for their intellectual flexibility, I thought perhaps that somehow their Left Brain / Right Brain flexibility they possessed through their drumming was making them smarter. I want that brain power! Here I am peeking over Stewart's left shoulder, trying to see if I can imagine the drum world his way. That's my friend Nicole in the foreground:

I knew I wanted something of Stewart and company's drum smarts, so I went for it and started practicing this way. I am starting to learn basic drum patterns playing left handed (or is it Right Brained??). This is especially challenging for my feet.

When I flip a pattern over mirror image to the other extremities, it makes me feel VERY WEIRD. Almost like nausea or sea sickness. But if I hold on, the sensation goes away, and it seems like I've made some new kind of neural connection. Exactly what this geezer needs to stave off my encroaching decrepitude.

Sometimes, when I do this, especially something difficult, I get a weird feeling in my neck: (See #3 above.)

Who's got two drumsticks and plays guitar better because of it?

This guy!

Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Follow me on Twitter: @diddleybow

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I'm in Too Many Bands to Blog!
Hey You! Learn to Read!

A lot of exciting news since the party in December. I've been busy, so I've been away from the blog. The Mid-Life-Crisis-Center is soon to be a reality, and the two bands I was in exploded into four. Lots of stuff going on. And I'm playing lots of music. On lots of different instruments.

I was in two bands, and now I'm in four bands: One cover band and three different original music projects.

The latest two bands are so new, they are as yet un-named: Band X is a kids music project. Band Y is an Black Keys/White Stripes/Jon Spencer Blues Explosion type duo that I started with a student. I play bass in the kids band. Drums in the duo.

The Seminal Whirlies are my Jam Class cover band, and they are about to get a makeover, including, I believe, a name change, as one of our members moves on to do greater things in the Peace Corps.

My main band, The Grand Candy, is mostly what's been keeping me from the computer:

'The Candy' is an original rock music power trio featuring Jon Babu, a fantastic drummer I've known since our days at NEC. We reconnected through our favorite local classic-rocking lead guitarist, Matt Wise.

To keep to the rule of three, I'm attempting to conjure both bass and rhythm guitar parts simultaneously. I'm playing slide guitar on a Jerry Jones electric through an Electro Harmonix POG split into a Mesa-Boogie 5/50 for guitar sounds and a rented 8 x 10 bass rig for bass. Let me tell you, that is some booty shakin' subsonic slide guitar. I'm having a ball.

The Candy has been Jamming for a year or so now, trying on different tunes and finding the sounds we want to use. We're ready to do some house parties. Email if you'd like us to rock your house.

I promise to have some audio of these bands up here just as soon as I can figure out how to do that. Or whenever my intern can figure that out. That is, when I get an intern. Need guitar lessons? Good with computers? Have more time than money? Email me. Soon you'll be in two or three bands yourself.

Oh yeah, guitar advice:
Learn to Read Music

I promise to be back soon with some more detailed and fun guitar advice.

In the meantime, don't forget to work on your music reading. 10% of your practice time should be spent learning how to read notes and rhythms.

You absolutely do not have to do this. It is not mandatory. I don't force my students to do this. It is certainly possible to become conversationally fluent in guitar by being around it all the time. Immersion and practice, practice, practice. The ears are still the best tools with which to learn music.

However, 10% is not a big practice time commitment. We're talking 5 minutes if you practice 45 minutes a day. Not a big deal, and you don't have to practice sight reading, unless you are planning on a career like Steve Lukather's.

However, think of all of the fantastic books you won't be able to read if you don't learn the written form of the language. Think about all the fantastic books you've read in your life, and how they've enriched your life and the language you use every day.

Learning to read music enriches your experience of music in this way. It's not necessary. But it sure is sweet.

Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

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