I'll be constantly learning new things about the guitar, music, and myself until the day I take my last breath. The past few years, I've grown quite a bit as a guitarist, but lately I've felt that I was in a rut. I felt that I had learned about as much as I could on my own, so I began taking lessons last week with Charles Williams, one of Atlanta's finest jazz guitarists.
After less than a week of working on my lesson material, I already have a sense of how Charles will help me grow. The main thing Charles is helping me with is growing my musical vocabulary – my bag of tricks that I can use for improvising, comping, and arranging. (Comping is a common jazz term for accompanying. If you're playing in support of a singer or another instrumentalist, you're comping.) The main way I'll be improving my vocabulary will be through transcribing solos of great jazz musicians.
To transcribe a solo, you choose a recording, listen to the solo over and over, write it down, and figure out how to play it. This takes quite a bit of time and focus. I'm not very fast at it, although I expect to get better at it over time.
As Charles put it, "I don't know any good players who don't transcribe solos." Transcribing solos is something I've been putting off, not because I wasn't aware of the value of it, but because it's hard and I was a little scared of it. Now that Charles has pushed me in this direction, I can see I didn't have anything to be frightened of. Yes, it's challenging, but I can already see the benefits. When you transcribe a solo, you're retracing the steps of a master. As you reconstruct a solo and learn to play it, you gain a gradual understanding of how that particular musician approached the guitar. By practicing the solo, you learn new licks, which you eventually learn how to incorporate into your own style of improvisation. In a sense, this is like learning a language. At first you mimic what you hear. Eventually you learn to use words and phrases to tell your own stories.
We're starting lessons with two guitarists that are at the root of all modern jazz guitar playing: Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. I'm looking forward to this new musical adventure!
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.