About Me

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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 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tune Based Practice

Earlier this month, I blogged about taking Joe Pass' advice to "learn tunes." Last year, I got caught up in playing too many exercises and not enough real music. I'm still playing plenty of scales, but now my main focus is on repertoire.

With this "tunes first" approach, practicing is more fun. It's harder to put the guitar down when you're playing good music. It's also more practical. Nobody wants to hear you play scales. If you're concentrating on tunes, you're building a repertoire of interesting, listenable music. As I'm learning more standards, I'm arranging more. Some of my new arrangements work well for guitar alone, and some are more scaled down and require a bass or piano player to back me up.

On an average day, I break my practice into three chunks. First, I'll spend time practicing scales and other warm-up exercises. Next, I'll practice jazz standards. Finally, I pull out my nylon string guitar and practice classical and Celtic music.

The first part of my practice is geared toward technique. I run through scales and arpeggios, and I'll play a couple jazzy warm-ups and practice a few licks. I also use this time to review older solo arrangements and to practice sight-reading, which pays dividends when it's time to sit in on a big band gig or learn the guitar part for a musical.

When it's time to practice jazz standards, I'll work through a list of tunes I want to learn. Some of them will be new songs for Tea for Two. Others will be songs that I just want to learn for the fun of it. This is also the time I work on new guitar arrangements. The nice thing about arranging for yourself is that you are tailoring your repertoire for your own level. Some of the arrangements come easily, and some require extra time and effort.

I've recently started working on classical and Celtic repertoire again. I bought a nice collection of flute/guitar music last year. I've learned enough of the guitar parts to get through a wedding gig, but I want to learn the rest. I've also written several arrangements of Celtic music for flute and guitar, and I have a collection of Celtic guitar pieces I'd like to learn. It'll be nice to mix the Celtic pieces in with my jazz arrangements for background gigs.


I'm glad I took Joe Pass' advice. Learning tunes is more fun, and I can build technique and repertoire at the same time.

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