Tag Archives: guitar

Miles Davis: “So What” trumpet solo on guitar

All my life I’ve been mesmerized and intimidated by jazz guitar. I’ve wanted to play jazz so badly, but didn’t believe that it would ever be within my grasp.

Until now.

Turns out the only thing that had to change was my thinking. My beliefs. “I AM a thriving, talented, successful jazz guitarist.” “I AM able to learn jazz guitar.” “I AM someone who enjoys the challenges involved in learning new things.”

Over the past week or so I assigned myself a new challenge: to learn the first solo (Miles Davis on trumpet) of Miles Davis’ “So What” on the guitar. Note for note.

The last three bars on this page took me on a two-hour journey of exploration and discovery. (This is not my transcription.)

This solo is about 2 minutes and 5 seconds long. When I woke up this morning, I could play all the way through 1 minute and 19 seconds of it. After about an hour and a half of practice, I can now play through 1 minute and 23 seconds of it. An important lesson for me here: it took me nearly two hours to move forward 4 seconds. The cool thing is, I ENJOY that challenge. It’s fun and exciting to think that almost 2 hours of work is needed for me to gain only 4 seconds of the solo… when I’m able to do the whole thing, it’ll mean a lot more than simply 2:05 of guitar playing… It will represent my energy, my love, and my passion… my willingness to change my mind about how I see the world… about how I view myself and my abilities. 

Another interesting point: As I was learning that new 4 seconds of material, I found myself spending a lot of time on one 6-note phrase. I played it over and over. I explored different ways of playing that same phrase, and found THREE different places to play it on the neck. Now I had an interesting decision to make: WHICH way should I focus on? As I explored deeper, I found that one way seemed the most simple because I could base the entire phrase on two adjacent strings, but there was quite a horizontal reach with my pinky involved. This option kept me well within my comfort zone.

The second path took me farther down the neck, utilized three strings, and involved a whole-step upward slide with my index finger on the high “e” string. A little more challenging, but all movement was on adjacent strings, so this was still within my comfort zone.

The third path involved string skipping; reaching up with the pinky from the 2nd string to the 4th string, up 5 frets. This took me well outside my comfort zone and even made me stop a minute and wonder, “can I even DO this??” I can’t recall purposely skipping strings during a solo. Then I thought of Steve Vai. Steve Lukather. Larry Carlton. All of my heroes. What would they do? Do they skip strings while soloing? Or do they only move across adjacent strings? These guys don’t practice to success; they practice to failure. That is, they don’t simply practice something until they can do it right… they keep practicing beyond that, until it’s second nature… until the rare occasion of goofing up happens… then they practice it even more.

When I realized this was a limitation that was holding me back, I decided to practice it some more. I quickly ditched the first path. Decided the second path on the high “e” string sounded too whiny/trebley. Went with the third path. Worked on it for awhile… not sure how long, lost track of time.

Then, following my intuition, I backed up and practiced the approach and entry into this new phrase. Of course that felt completely foreign at first, but after a few tries, I began to see how the phrases connected. As I became more comfortable, I realized I was creating new neural pathways in my brain.

I’m not in a hurry. I’m not trying to get this solo down before Tuesday, or by any sort of deadline. At the same time, I do feel motivated to learn the whole thing and get it into my fingers… into my bones, so that it becomes mine. I’m practicing at least a little bit every day, even if that means just running through what I know once or twice to make sure it’s still there. When I was a young teenager at the local public swimming pool, I remember challenging myself to learn how to do a gainer off the high diving board. Not having any sort of lessons, I didn’t know how to go forward with any sort of formal process for learning this new skill. So I just ran off the end of the low diving board and threw myself into the air, trying as best I could to approximate that backwards flipping motion without cracking my head on the diving board.

After many false starts, I finally did it. Sloppy. Dangerous. But I did it. After doing that a hundred times or so, I decided to try it from the high dive. After facing down a terror that made me want to vomit, I finally did it. The interesting thing was that I was never satisfied with doing it only once. There was no victory in that for me. No. I had to prove to myself that I could do it repeatedly. So only after doing it dozens of times over the course of an entire summer would I allow myself to say, with any sort of confidence, “I can do a gainer off the high dive.”

This is sort of the same. It’s one thing to patch together the phrases of this solo and to execute them all in a row one time without making a mistake. It’s an entirely different thing to be able to visualize where my fingers will land and hear the notes in my head as I’m lying in bed. A whole different animal to be able to play it without analysis, without thinking about where the next notes will come from. Without counting beats.

Of course, this is simply one step along the path. Since everything in this realm is temporary, my ability to play this solo will diminish and disappear. The guitar I call ‘mine’, as much as I love it, will change hands. Disintegrate. Be destroyed, sooner or later. This body I call ‘mine’ will collapse and return to ashes. There’s no trophy here to be claimed with any sort of finality. Like everything we can see, hear, taste, touch, feel, or think, this experience is temporary. Finite. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The joy for me is that, in the midst of this understanding, I can fully embrace the spirit and passion of learning this solo. Even as we know leaves on a tree will end up on the ground come autumn, in this moment they can blow wildly in the sunshine, glinting sunlight and brilliance. And understanding that we can’t make them shimmer forever, we can still appreciate their beauty in this moment.

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“Bacon” Rocks The Hank

BACON ROCKS THE HANK (Saturday, May 12, 2012)
by Tim Birchard

Debuting to a full house at Durango, Colorado’s Henry Strater Theater, Bacon lived up to its addictive name, leaving the audience shouting and begging for more. This reviewer begs the reader’s forgiveness for not yet knowing the names of all of the band members, and for possibly even coming across as a bit incoherent at times. Having just witnessed one of the best performances of the year, I’m a bit stunned, taken aback, and inspired, all at once.

Funky and syncopated like early Jazz Crusaders, but just a little less polite, Bacon is clearly one of the most important jazz quintets to hit the stage today. Simply put, these guys are on fire. They avoid the typical jazz posturing while maintaining a commanding presence through a solid vocabulary.

Bacon’s trumpet player, Christopher Ross, runs the gamut, from gentle nuances to all-out, red-faced staccato runs.

The sax and trumpet were beautifully locked together, sounding as full as an entire brass section yet as limber and flexible as a single musician. The entire band seemed to shift and pulse like a single organism, writhing like a snake, striking at unexpected rests in perfect unison, even after only five rehearsals together. Bacon’s dynamics were a sight to behold… From soft, gentle brushstrokes of pale shades, they’d turn on a dime and bring the energy up to a blistering crescendo, mirrored by the frenzied excitement of the audience.

The guitarist’s Ibanez semi-hollow body, which he ran through a Fender Deluxe, had just enough overdrive to make it gritty; his chording was clean and brilliant, while his solos sizzled. The sax player was articulate, smooth, and able to play the fastest runs with ease, while the bassist’s 5-string finger style playing was rock solid, locking in the groove with the ever-grinning drummer.

And The Drummer. My. God. This guy was clearly having the time of his life. He was constantly playing musical jokes and laughing out loud at his own punchlines. Sometimes they were so good that I laughed out loud, as well. But as I looked around, it didn’t look like anyone else got it. All the better… it was like they were inside jokes, and I was part of the in-crowd. To see this guy in action was to witness poetry in motion. After they were finished and the next band was playing, he happened to walk by my seat, and I shamelessly grabbed his hand and said, “Dude! You are freaking amazing!” He thanked me, with a stunned look. Either he thought I was a freak, or he doesn’t actually realize how good he is. Maybe that’s for the best; he was clearly playing for the love of it, devoid of any hint of ego. Just like everyone else in the band.

The trumpet player, Chris Ross, has a knack for playing exactly the notes that sound right… like an artist who knows instinctively what color to use in any given situation. From subtle nuances to all-out, red-faced, staccato jamming, it sounded at times as if Chris was blowing his soul out through his horn.

The only disappointment of the night was that Bacon left the stage after only three songs, turning the mic over to the headliners of the evening. Hopefully the next time Bacon performs, it’ll be for at least 90 minutes; preferably for 2 hours. I will gladly buy tickets to see these guys as soon as I can. I urge you to check them out.

More Bacon, please!

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Growing pains

Change. It can feel so exhilarating. And so frustrating. All rolled up in the same enchilada.

Joyful Exhilaration

The music, connection, and promotion of our new kirtan band, Blue Lotus Feet, has been an amazingly natural process. It has all just fallen into place, blossoming where seeds happen to fall. It feels like a rare occurrence in my life when collaborating musically with others has felt so easy and so rewarding. (My involvement with Fancy Shampoo is another joyful example that comes to mind.)

The musical fruit that has been ripening for the past 6 years is bursting forth with beautiful seeds and delicious, fragrant flowers. My Macbook, M-Audio Firewire Solo interface, and GarageBand have been fantastic, reliable tools on that path of my journey. I’d gotten to the point where I could pretty quickly and easily create a recording that I could be proud of, and I had six solo albums to show for it.

But finally, after at least a year of research and consideration, I realized that I was becoming ready to take things to The Next Level and upgraded to Apple Logic. With that step has come many joyful realizations and “Eureka!” moments. Today, in a further realization, it became clear to me that I’ve simultaneously outgrown my ability to only record with one mic at a time.

The Frustration of Tech Limitation

Cheryl and I spent most of today working on tracking vocals and guitar to add to the kick-ass drums you played the other day for Om hari om shanti. After hours of hard work, we ended up frustrated, with no final product to show for our efforts. The problem? Only one mic capability. In order to capture her singing and playing guitar simultaneously, the plan came down to this: 1) record a scratch track with the mic pointed halfway between mouth and guitar’s soundhole. 2) Go back and track only guitar while listening to Scratch Track. 3) Go back and record only vocal while listening to Scratch Track. 4) Get rid of Scratch Track; vocal and guitar tracks should sync up. Should.

Problem is, that process doesn’t capitalize on the most important aspect of a dynamite recording: namely, a comfortable, natural performance. One of Cheryl’s many talents is her ability to consistently perform great takes, time after time, when singing and playing simultaneously. Take away the ability to capture both sound sources simultaneously while throwing in the additional (and unnatural) need to try to match what you did in the last take, and the “natural, joyful, heart-focused performance” goes out the window. Replaced by an analytical, “head-centric” exercise in musical dexterity. Math.

Gosh, with the ability to use two (or more) mics simultaneously, we could have gotten down to business right away and spent our day capturing magic instead of trying to devise workarounds.

Solution?

Focusrite Saffire Pro 40. Eight (8!!) mic inputs for simultaneous mic’d performances. To say nothing of the multiple line inputs (guitar with pickup, keyboard, etc.).

To be clear, ‘it ain’t about the gear’. In my opinion, there are quite enough rich lawyers and surgeons out there with time and money on their hands to collect top-shelf gear to show off to their friends. While G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) can definitely play a role in a musician’s choices, at the end of the day the key virtue is perspective. The music comes first. Capturing the music comes second. Excellent equipment capturing crappy music results in an excellent recording of crappy music. Crappy equipment capturing excellent music can result in a decent, listenable album. But a balance between high-quality gear and high-quality music… THAT’s the goal most of us aspire to achieve.

The downside: the learning curve involved in becoming proficient with Apple Logic has just been compounded by another new piece of gear.

But that’s okay. I’m in it for the Long Haul. I’ve been squeezing juice out of my current setup for six years… and squeezing juice out of whatever system I could for the past 30. The most important thing for me to remember is not to rush the learning process. It took time for me to get comfortable with my old rig; it will take time for me to get comfortable with this one. The difference is, when I do reach that level of comfort with this system, the possibilities will be much more far-reaching.

Here’s to patience, persistence, and recognizing every opportunity to be joyful in the Present Moment.

Peace.

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Cool legato thing

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcSZy2BtlMs

A friend of mine sent me an incredible 3-minute lesson of a common legato lick that guys like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani use. While they play it at light speed, flawlessly, I am currently just getting it to fall beneath my fingers. So it’s pretty slow and sloppy right now.

But that’s okay. Because if I keep at it for the next month… three months… five years… sooner or later, it’s going to be pretty smooth.

And I’m not playing guitar on any sort of deadline, anyway. I love to play. That’s reason enough for me to keep playing (hopefully) for the rest of my life.

Steve Vai agrees: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atGBKuCJ-Jc&feature=related

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Mastering patience

Hey Friends,

This weekend was an exciting one — yesterday I received the final, mastered songs back from the studio. Scott Smith and Lacey Black did an amazing job. In fact, they sound SO good that when I got home and started listening to the first song, I started crying. Not to be melodramatic or anything, but it’s true. It just blew me out of the water.

I followed Scott and Lacey’s advice and listened to every single song with a “fine-tooth ear” to make absolutely certain that the product I send to DiscMakers is truly ready. And it’s a good thing I did… On one of the songs, I heard a little ‘click’ sound that is not supposed to be there. I went back to the original file that I’d submitted to Scott and Lacey– sure enough, there it was. I’d missed it.

So while 7 of the 8 songs are ready to be sent to DiscMakers, that one song needs some love and care. I plan to isolate the offending track, clean it up, then do a fresh mixdown. I’ll then submit the fresh file to Scott and Lacey for mastering and have them place it in the appropriate sequence location on the album. THEN it’ll be ready to send to DiscMakers.

Fact is, not so long ago I would have felt a sense of urgency and frustration about such an unexpected wrinkle. I may have even chosen to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there (‘magical thinking’). But I know the cold reality — if I were to ignore it, every single time I listened to the final cd, I’d be listening for one thing: that ‘click’. Better to fix it now and get it right so the final product is exactly the way I want it.

Approximate time frame for mastering this final song again will hopefully be the week following the 4th of July weekend. We’ll see what Scott and Lacey’s schedules look like. In the meantime, I’ve posted the mastered songs up for free review at www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com.

Again, from the bottom of my heart, I thank every one of you who helped to make this possible!

I’ll keep you posted as things unfold.

All the best,

Tim

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Now available: A Place Of My Own merch!

http://www.zazzle.com/tim_birchard_a_place_of_my_own_t_shirt-235528401118220804

http://www.zazzle.com/tim_birchard_a_place_of_my_own_mug-168906389046109818

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Progress update: A Place Of My Own

Hey Friends,

Just a quick update to let you know that all mixdowns have been finished. Fundraising efforts through Kickstarter.com were wildly successful. Final mixes were delivered to Scooter’s Place for mastering last week. All album art files have been uploaded to Discmakers.com.

Once the songs are mastered, a physical disc (and backup) will get shipped to Discmakers, and the final order for duplication/packaging will be placed. Then, 5-7 days later, they should arrive on my doorstep. That’s when I’ll get to start mailing them out to the generous financial backers listed above!

Again, thanks to everyone involved in making this happen!

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