Category Archives: music

International Guitar Festival 2009

Firstly, welcome to my latest website/blog amalgam. It makes slightly more sense to parse the number of domains needed in my professional life, and this seems to be the most logical conclusion!

So, without further ado, on with the blog…

This year’s IGF is without a doubt the best one one I’ve been involved with thus far.  An incredible array of wonderful musicians, inspirational teachers, and a multitude of enthusiastic participants. All willing to chat gear, technique, and musical recommendations; and of course jam and banter in equal measure.

2009 brought us such luminaries as ace drummer Stanton Moore (with the incredible Wil Bernard on guitar) performing and teaching; workshops from Rob Harris and the Jamiroquai rhythm section; a face-melting concert from old IGF-hand Guthrie Govan & The Fellowship; and gigs from the IGF teachers, including John Wheatcroft’s gypsy jazz evening.

So, a pretty packed week, even without factoring in my teaching requirements!

This year, my Extreme Rock class (\m/) performed a diverse range of metal tracks – we learnt Motorcycle Driver by Joe Satriani (from ‘The Extremist’), Killers by Iron Maiden, and a Zakk Wylde-meets-guitar-orchestra arrangement of HillBillie Jean, by John Jay Smith Michael Jackson, as arranged by me in a caffeine-abetted marathon the week before.

My class did a sterling job at the Student Concert on Friday, so well done guys! Seamus, Michael 1, Will, Josh, Theo, Jack 1, Jack 2, Michael 2 and Alessandro – you all rock, and your great performance in the gig is testament to the hard work you put in over the week.

Thank you!

Post-concert, of course, came the farewell jam session, and I had a rather good time with Jonny Scaramanga, Hugh Richardson & Martyn James, with a chest-thumpingly intense rendition of Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love (according to Jonny, it was played ‘with unprecedented bodaciousness’). Of course, we took extended solos, and I even added the 9th into the A minor pentatonic, just to show that I play jazz…

Oh yes, and I played it on my latest acquisition – a new, un-modded Squier Strat. Yup.

So, all in all, a great week! Thanks to everyone who helped – all my old friends, and new ones from the week – your great company and hard work made it a week to remember!

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Filed under gigs, Guitar, music, tuition

The signatures are legion, for they are many.

I think it’s about time I update with something about music – just for a change. The whole accomodationism vs. science education debate on the blogosphere is leaving me pretty worn out (incidentally, I must register here my fervent hope that Jerry Coyne uses my term to describe the accomodationists – The ‘Pew Atheists’, a ho ho ho), plus I’m playing in West Side Story at the moment, and that’s just killer.

So – in the spirit of light-heartedness, dear reader, I present to you the largest number of signature items on a gig. That I’ve done, at least.

Here, for a Music Faculty staff concert, is my rig – try and spot all the signature items:

Get ’em all?
OK, following the signal chain, R-L:
Boss Chromatic Tuner; Dunlop Zakk Wylde Wah; Xotic Andy Timmons BB Pre-amp; Digitech Hardwire Valve Distortion; MXR EVH Van Halen Phaser.

So, the tuner and the distortion aren’t really pulling their weight – FOR SHAME.
In my defence, though, the tuner’s needed because every audience deserves a guitarist who’s in tune.
And the distortion? It just kicks arse. Seriously great sound, I may scrawl my own moniker on it with a Sharpie if I have an idle moment…

Next up:

Yes, it’s a replica of Eric Johnson’s favourite Dunlop Jazz III pick.
I can’t even excuse the purchase of this, and needless to say it doesn’t form the bulk of my chat-up material.

OH HAI what’s that on my Parker Fly?

I just think those Satriani straps are funky. The new Metheny ones are really tempting, too…

And finally:

My oldest guitar, a lovely 1st-edition Ernie Ball/Musicman John Petrucci signature model.

So there we have it, a little trawl through some of my gear. And this is only the stuff I use to play RAWK – we haven’t even touched on the big band jazz stuff, or my country equipment, or the stage show rigs, or…

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Filed under blatant hero-worship, geek, gigs, Guitar, music

Good Points, Well Made

It is, I must admit, a bit of a fantasy of mine to be the keynote speaker at some colossally inspirational event. After a bout of inflammatory rhetoric, close with a single sentence of silent power.
And then – scarcely a squeak of inhalation is heard throughout the throngs, before –
A million mortarboards ascend heavenwards, a testimonial deluge to the speech-making prowess of yours truly.
And to think I was planning to Rick Roll the audience instead.
However, until my prestigious invites come in, I’ll have to make do with PZ’s wonderful speech here:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/05/keck_school_of_medicine_commen.php#more

The main reason I’m posting this is because of all the parallels I can find with my own field in music performance & education.
Here are a few points PZ makes that would be worth repeating around musicians:

I’m a strong believer in stochastic processes, and while individuals may go off
in directions we don’t like, I’m confident that the aggregate activity of large
numbers of smart people expressing themselves in public will end up making the
world a better place.


So let me just give you a few general guidelines.

Create more smart people. The best thing you can do for the future is to
encourage and enable more people to follow you, by teaching, mentorship,
example, or support. This is basic: you all know that science is a collaborative
enterprise, so you should have had this dunned into your head by now. I should
also warn you that your alumni association will be contacting you regularly from
now on to remind you of your duty.
– Here’s another one you may take for granted, but I assure you, much of the world outside your circle of nerds does not: Criticize. It’s one of the most powerful tools in the scientific toolbox, and self-criticism and constant testing and evaluation of our ideas is how we make our understanding greater. If you haven’t gotten out of the lab much in the
last few years, you may be surprised at how much shock and dismay you can
generate with the simple words, “I think you’re wrong, and here’s why.” Don’t be
shy about using them!

And, here’s a beauty of a point:

– More generally, communicate. All these years of training have stuffed
your brains with arcane knowledge — you know amazing things that few other
people understand.

You already know about the expectation that you will write
your knowledge up in the form of arcane articles for even more arcane journals,
but you should also feel an obligation to explain it all to everyone else. I
don’t mean this as an excuse to be a deadly bore at parties, but that you should
put serious effort into explaining the significance of what you do to people
like your grandmother, or the readers of your local paper, or the president of
the United States.


– One final admonition. What is going on here is a small miracle. You are all going to be receiving a nearly identical piece of parchment that says you are all graduates of the Keck School of Medicine. Yet, did you notice, you did not have to sign a loyalty oath to enroll here? There is no USC Dogma you are expected to adhere to. Some of you may have immersed yourself in such different specialties that you scarcely understand what your equally specialized peers say about their work, or you may disagree with each others’ positions.

You have different politics, different religious beliefs, different
cultural backgrounds, and I think you can even go so far as to decide to root
for the UCLA Bruins, and they won’t revoke your degree. I look out at you all
sitting there in your identical black uniforms and ridiculous hats, and am
amused at the incongruity, because the one thing I can know about you all is
that you are intellectually diverse and independent.

For topics of this nature, I’d heartily recommend Peter Gregson’s website & blog for examples of this sort of thinking, his specialised company Coffeeloop is based around these premises.
And in my own field of them electric geetars, we have a wonderful age in which The White Stripes & Dream Theater can co-exist as ‘rock bands’, both of whom are valid reasons to want to learn & share music; and ‘Guitar Hero’ has kids actively developing fine muscle dexterity AND HAVING FUN whilst doing so.
Bands like Madame Blavatsky’s Overdrive, followed by Radiohead, Marillion et al are experimenting with new methods of conveying media directly to fans, as Frost*’s Jem Godfrey discusses here on his wonderful blog.
Since my last post on Frost* I’ve become such a huge fan, I’m more excited about them opening for Dream Theater than I am about seeing DT themselves.
Huzzah for the joy of new music, and all who sail in her!
John.

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Filed under Guitar, music, soapbox

Austin McBride: Comedy Legend or Dangerously Amusical Sociopath?

Interwebs, thou dost vex me so.


Firstly, you’re so clogged up with nonsense, I can never find the droids I’m looking for.
Secondly, you bugger up definitions so much as to render any aggregate of potentially informative information completely useless.

Case in point: define ‘expert’.
Images of ivory towers, white lab coats, examiners asking for Db melodic minor – 3 octaves ascending AND descending, even Starbucks barristas who’ve mastered ‘trainee’ status.

Expertise can be a double-edged sword – think of this logical fallacy (not always a fallacy, but most frequently used in the pejorative). But normally, someone citing themselves as an ‘expert’ should have at least some grounds on which to base that claim (thanks again Randall for illuminating this).

This is murky territory in the Internetz – easy accessibility to YouTube and a slew of similar sites make uploading educational material exceptionally easy. Which is fine – we all know that YouTube is open to all (unless, *gasp* you’re talking about that taboo subject, SCIENCE! OH NOES), and as such exercise fair skepticism on the veracity of the videos.

This system, however, fails when the site is called Expert Village
The site describes itself thus:

ExpertVillage.com offers the largest choice of professionally produced and researched videos, to answer your everyday questions with answers you can trust.

With over 120,000 videos (and growing), our library is nothing short of quality and offers visitors a one stop destination to get well-researched, practical, and, most notably, FREE information.

My, that’s impressive. And certainly there are plenty of great sites out there that provide free educational services that are exceptionally well-researched – Justin Sandercoe‘s site is an altruistic treasure-trove of information, for instance.

However, describing Expert Village as ‘professionally…researched’ with ‘answers you can trust’, and then FAILING SPECTACULARLY to deliver on this basic promise, is, if I’m being polite, nothing short of specious; outright disingenuous if I’m being honest.

And this is made incarnate in the contributions from a number of people, mainly Ryan Larson, Athena Reich and the legendary Austin McBride
A number of other bloggers have beaten me to these – 2 of my favourite articles have been by Nick’s Cafe Canadien, and Adrian Clark’s Spaghetti Factory.
Very well written, guys, and highly amusing.

BUT – while I share the mocking, I’m also exceptionally angry that such ignorant displays of music ‘education’ are paraded as expertise on a professional site.
I can excuse amateurism – we’ve all been learners once. My musical development, and understanding of education, develops every day through being open to suggestions and encouragement. OF COURSE this is how we learn and develop.
OF COURSE we’re not going to be perfect straight away – I understand this, and it would be churlish of me to suggest otherwise.
However, I’d do my utmost to understand whether EDUCATION that I’m recording actually stands up as informative and useful.

For a start, Ryan’s “coonga” technique and rhythmic understanding are just hilariously wrong, and his hip-hop drumming examples (especially this one) just spit in the face of rhythm.
If I were a percussionist, I’d be spewing bile just thinking about it.

Now, for my profession, Athena’s string changing video shows us a handy mnemonic to remember the names of the strings…in reverse order. This is a breathtakingly awful abuse of a public education site.

But it’s Austin McBride, tutor to the stars, who deserves our full attention here.
I won’t comment about his breakdancing lessons, or his golf club lessons (I swear to any God you care to name that I am not making this up, he’s too Napoleon Dynamite to describe), but his music lessons are so wrong, so condemnable by their very existence, that I must protest.
I repeat, this is a professional site for tuition. Absolutely no vetting procedure seems to take place. We have Austin playing a piece in 4/4 while calling it 5/4, he constantly gets chord names wrong (B minor, instead of Bb minor) and gives laughably poor understanding of the nature of jazz music and piano playing.

  • Again, if this were YouTube (an open video forum) I wouldn’t object – fair enough, who am I to criticise someone who posts a video of their playing? But it’s not, these people are described by a professional education site as experts.
  • If it were a misunderstanding of nomenclature, I wouldn’t object. Plenty of pro musicians have differing terminologies (Eric Johnson’s string ‘stretching’ comes to mind). But Ryan Larson showing an example he’s written in 4/4 as music in 12/8 is WRONG, not a difference of interpretation. I repeat, Austin saying A brief explanation of syncopation is when there are two different rhythms going against each other and then towards the end of the musical phrase they happen to line back up. So where they’re bouncing off, bouncing off, bouncing off, and then collide, they’re the same, they hit together at the same time and then they separate once again. That’s what syncopation consists of” is WRONG. It may be a long-winded description of Isorhythms, but it’s not syncopation.
The very fact that Expert Village aren’t checking these videos is a gross disservice to any one with the basic humility to want to learn music.

And here I’m ignoring my job as a professional musician and guitar teacher – imagine having a child learning from these people. People who don’t have the recognition that their tuition is potentially harmful.

At least Wikipedia give users the option to edit the damaging disinformation on the site. Expert Village need to shape up – sort out these awful contributions to musical pedagogy, or turn into a world-wide circus where musicians and educators jeer from the sidelines.

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Filed under diatribe, music, science, soapbox

CoffeeLoop presents MicroConcert

Evenin’ all,


I just want to alert you to a new concert put on by CoffeeLoop: a Twitter-based concept called MicroConcert.

It’s brought to you by the same team that did the adventurous SPEM and The Words on the Wall projects. If you’re free to watch the streaming concert tomorrow (March 19th) I highly recommend it.

More info available at my brother’s site.

Take care, and keep rockin’ in the free world.
John.

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Filed under music, promotion

Lesson for February

Good day all,


I’ve had a number (>1) of e-mails asking me about a lick wot I played on my MySpace page. The track, What Used To Be, was recorded mid-2004 as a reaction to me needing to flex my shred muscles. Hence the lick at the end of the recording.

I’ve decided, because I had time while waiting for the kettle this morning, to tab those 2 bars. Partly because I thought some guitarists may be curious to see how I played things 5 years ago, and mostly because I couldn’t think of anything else to post about.

Well, here it is:


Here’s a link to a much prettier PDF of said lick – free for use as lesson material as long as my name isn’t removed from the file!

Go on, get your fret-hand tapping chops in order with this!
John.

P.S. Gear used, if I remember correctly, was a Music Man Petrucci signature 6-string (2002 model) into my old Line 6 POD (original 1999 version).

P.P.S. John Gregson and all musical affiliates ask you to enjoy this lick responsibly. Please exercise good taste when playing guitar. No, really, honest.

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Filed under Guitar, lesson, music

Normal? Normal?!

I really can’t stop listening to Ron Thal’s albums right now.

Over the weekend, I actually had Normal and Abnormal on repeat for about 5 hours straight – I love these albums.

How did this happen? One minute I was working on some Jim Hall transcription, and then…this…

I suppose it goes back to Chinese Democracy (I can’t believe I’m writing about that album in the PAST TENSE!), which re-piqued [I’m sure it’s a word, stop judging me] me interest in Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and his wacky fret-free, thimble-full output.

Anyway, if you’ve his earlier albums (such as the wonderful Hands and 9.11) you’ll know his perverse, technically mindblowing left-field playing.
But with Normal and Abnormal, which I only bought last month (the shame, it burns!), his command of melody and humour really come to the fore.
Plus, after transcribing his solo in ‘Turn Around’, I feel that my fret-hand tapping chops will never be the same again. That Ron has a clean technique.

But, listen to a track like ‘Simple Days’ and hear his control and taste, both on guitar and in composition. Masterful.

A wonderful introduction to a much valued talent on our instrument – Mr. Thal, I salute you!

Now, where’s me thimble?

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Filed under blatant hero-worship, Guitar, music