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.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Home at Zen Tea

It appears that Zen Tea is becoming a second home.

I usually play at Zen Tea once a month with Tea for Two, but last night I performed as a soloist. I didn't attract as many people as the full band usually does, but I still had fun. Two hours of singing and playing my favorite music at one of my favorite venues is a good way to spend a Saturday night. Although I didn't exactly fill the room, Connie (the owner) liked my solo show and asked me to book another one. Flattery will get you everywhere. I booked a date for September 1.

A friend of mine, Barbara Hotz, plays nearly every Sunday afternoon from 2-4 for a regular event…a tea tasting, I think, but I'm not sure. She doesn't play every single Sunday, so I'm going to be her alternate, which means I'll probably play an additional Sunday each month or so.

On top of that, it looks like I'll be hosting a monthly jam session at Zen Tea, which will start in late September. This is an experiment, and for now, we've only scheduled September 23 and October 28. If those go well, we'll continue. I'm not sure exactly how I'll run the jam session yet, but I do know that I would like this to be an eclectic jam session. To reflect my personal tastes, I'll invite musicians of all stripes to the event – particularly folk musicians and jazzers. Of course, the musical styles at the jam session will ultimately depend on who actually shows up, but I'll do my best to make it a melting pot.

I've been playing at Zen Tea for about two years now, and I've loved it since day one. The moment I first walked in, there was something about the place. The tension left my body, and I felt peaceful and at ease. Part of it is the decor, but mostly it's because of Connie, who calmly treats all her customers like friends.

If you're ever in Chamblee, GA and just need a place to sit down and relax a while, you should check out Zen Tea. Meanwhile, I'm thinking about setting up a cot in the back room.

Chick-fil-A (sigh)

Yes, this is yet another blog about Chick-fil-A. I see my Facebook friends posting all sorts of things for and against Chick-fil-A's stance on "traditional" marriage, whatever that is. I've seen posts like the picture on the right, and other friends have snidely posted comments like "I'm going to enjoy a delicious sandwich at Chick-fil-A today!"

I doubt I'm going to be writing anything new on the great Chick-fil-A debate. I'm sorely tempted to respond to my friends' Facebook comments, but that inevitably ends in a ridiculous flame war. All I want to do here is put my opinion on record and leave it at that.

Let's start off with a couple pieces of information. First of all, I feel strongly that gay people should be allowed to be married. Second of all, regardless of Chick-fil-A's stance on the issue, I don't like their food. I've eaten at Chick-fil-A three times in my life, maybe four, and it just doesn't do much for me.

Although Chick-fil-A and I share a different opinion on the issue of gay marriage (and probably a lot of other things), the owners have every right to donate to whomever they choose. (If it turns out that they discriminated against employees or customers due to sexual preference, that would be another story, but I haven't heard or read anything about that.)

In turn, if I find that a restaurant is openly against gay marriage, I can simply choose to spend my money somewhere else. This is no hardship for me, since I don't even like Chick-fil-A's food, but I have friends who love Chick-fil-A's food who have decided to never eat there again.

I'm amazed at the number of Facebook friends who are amazed at the long lines at Chick-fil-A since this whole ridiculous thing started. Really? You didn't see this coming? You didn't expect religious right-wingers to come out in droves, viewing this is as a delicious way to support their cause?

I seriously doubt that the "biblically based" Chick-fil-A is going to be hurting any time soon, and I don't feel this will signal a new boom for them, either. They've lost plenty of regular customers. They're getting a lot of business now from those who want to keep Chick-fil-A from being "oppressed." The brisk business will eventually die down, but through this little "I'm going to Chick-fil-A" fad, they will regain regular customers to replace those they lost. I think it will all even out.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to spend my money where I think it should go…into locally owned establishments that view their customers as people and not dollar signs.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Skink Day

Stone Mountain has become like a gigantic gym for me with a $35 a year membership fee (parking pass). Once a week (twice if my schedule is free), I like to go to Stone Mountain and tromp around. There are two different kinds of hikes that I enjoy. The main attraction for hikers seems to be the Walk Up Trail, which is a one mile hike straight up Stone Mountain. There are also plenty of trails that go around Stone Mountain. Sometimes I enjoy the physical challenge of the Walk Up Trail, and sometimes I enjoy a longer hike through the woods.

Today I took a longer hike. I walked five miles around Stone Mountain, mostly sticking to the Cherokee Trail. After one circumnavigation, I turned around and retraced my steps for a total of 10 miles. It was an eventful walk, with plenty of nature moments.

It began to rain during the first section of the hike. It was so steamy that my glasses soon fogged up. I'm extremely nearsighted, but I was better off carrying my glasses. I'm glad I was familiar with this trail, because it a blurry two miles before the sun came out and evaporated the moisture from my glasses. Oddly enough, it didn't appear to have rained at all on the north side of the mountain. That ground was bone dry.

After the sun came out, the rocks were steaming, and I started to see five-lined skinks all over the place. I think there must have been a skink convention, because they were everywhere! I'm sure those skinks have been there all along, but this was the first time I started to notice them. After I became aware of them, I saw them wherever I looked. I've only been walking the trails at Stone Mountain for a couple weeks now. I'm looking forward to seeing more wildlife as my city eyes get used to looking for critters on the trail.

On the return trip, I came across a rather large deer. We stared at each other for a few seconds before she bounded away. After reaching the south side of the mountain, I got rained on again…twice. At least it wasn't enough to fog up my glasses again. Aside from the annoyance of foggy glasses, I didn't mind the rain. In face, it felt wonderful, like I was walking through a lawn sprinkler on a hot day.

Aside from my nature moments, I'm also thrilled that I appear to be able to run again. For now, I'm sticking mainly with walking the trails, with an occasional stretch of running (well, trotting). The trail is much easier on my knees than the hard road, and the tricky footing helps keep me from over striding. I've read that running on tricky terrain is also a good way to strengthen the ankles and all the other joints that support running and walking. I'll eventually increase the percentage of time I spend running versus walking, but, to play it smart, I plan to mix running with walking from now on.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Making It Up (Music Service)

This morning, I led a music service at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The service was based around musical improvisation as a form of communication, and I also drew parallels between musical improvisation and Unitarian Universalism. The service was well received, and I owe a debt of thanks to the musicians who helped me out: Thomas Vinton, Yahya Rahmaan, and Steve Weikle.

This was my script for the service. You lose some of the "oomph" without the music, but I hope you still find the words meaningful.

MAKING IT UP (MUSIC SERVICE)
July 22, 2012

Tom Godfrey (worship leader, guitar)
Thomas Vinton (piano)
Steve Weikle (woodwinds)
Yahya Rahman (drums)
Susan Burnore (worship associate)

WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS (Susan Burnore)

PRELUDE (The Musicians)
Flippin’ Giddy (by Tom Godfrey) [an original composition]

CHALICE LIGHTING (Susan Burnore and Tom Godfrey)
The words for this morning’s chalice lighting come from Ella Fitzgerald. “Forgive me if I don’t have the words. Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.”

OPENING WORDS (Tom Godfrey)
I don’t know what’s going to happen this morning. I mean, I have some words printed out, but the heart of this service is musical improvisation. I really don’t know what these other guys are going to play. I don’t know what I’M going to play. We’re just making this up!

OPENING HYMN (The Congregation)
#1003 Where to We Come From?

  • Start as regular hymn.
  • Group will then start to improvise as we phase out the hymn and have congregation sit.
  • We’ll bring in the congregation at the end, singing whichever part they want.

CANDLES OF COMMUNITY (Susan Burnore)

OFFERTORY (The Musicians)
Cutesy Blues (by Tom Godfrey)

REFLECTION (Tom Godfrey)
I love improvising. I used to be afraid to improvise. Actually, sometimes I’m still afraid to improvise, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen next. If you’ve ever been to a jam session, you know that sometimes improvisation is magical, and sometimes…it isn’t. To me, improvisation is a little like stepping off a cliff and trusting that a bridge will appear. I started out as a classical trombone player, where I was trained to play everything “exactly right.” The few times I was forced to improvise, I tended to shut down. I was so used to playing whatever I saw on the page that I didn’t know what to do if I actually had to come up with something on my own.

Back in the ‘90s, I was a trombone player in an Air Force band. It was a good job, but I developed a muscle tear in my upper lip and lost the ability to play trombone. Musically and socially, I shut down for nearly 10 years. I worked as a music copyist, but I couldn’t play the trombone, and I didn’t sing in public. A few years ago, my ex, Katherine, got tired of hearing me talking about wanting to learn to play the guitar all the time, so she bought me one. It was the best gift I’ve ever received. Playing a new instrument reignited my passion for music. Despite my classical background, I gravitated toward jazz guitar, and I eventually started learning to improvise. And I loved it! That’s not to say that I was good at it right away. I was terrible. But I didn’t care. I wasn’t afraid to be terrible. I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes. I just wanted to explore.

Now, I don’t believe in fate. I only believe in coincidence. Still, it’s an interesting coincidence that I started becoming more of a musical explorer around the same time I discovered Unitarian Universalism, which encourages spiritual exploration.

This morning, we’ll be exploring musical improvisation as a way of communicating, and I’ll even draw some similarities between improvisation and Unitarian Universalism. Lucky for you, I’m a musician and not much of a talker. I’ll just make a few points and then, like Ella said, “Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.”

MUSIC FOR ALL AGES (Tom Godfrey and Thomas Vinton) [This took the place of the usual children's story.]
The Blues
Does anybody know what it means to have the blues? If I say that I have the blues, it means I’m feeling a little sad. The blues is also a kind of music. It started back when we had slavery in this country. Many of the slaves had to work very hard in the fields, and they sang work songs that helped make the day go a little faster. Over time, these work songs changed into what we call the blues. Lots of times, blues songs tell a sad story. Sometimes they’ll tell a happy story, too, but usually it’s sad stories. The funny thing about singing the blues is that it can make you happy. It might seem strange that singing a sad song can make you happy. If something makes you sad or angry and you hold it inside, your bad feelings can grow and grow, but if you let them out and let someone know how you’re feeling, you can suddenly feel better. I think that singing a blues song can make you happy because singing is a way of letting the sadness out.

This morning, we’re going to sing your sad stories. Think of something that makes you sad…or happy. I’ll give you an example. You may not believe it, but I used to have a full head of hair. “I woke up this morning, all my hair went away. Woke up this morning, all my hair went away. I’m so sad and lonely, had to put my comb away.”

Now it’s your turn. What makes you sad? Mad? Happy? What’s fun? What’s boring? [We will take whatever the children give us, and Thomas Vinton will use it to improvise a blues song.] [This was one of the highlights of the service.]

MAKING IT UP (Tom Godfrey)
I think of musical improvisation as a conversation. Just as with any other worthwhile conversation, you need a common language, a willingness to listen, and some rules of engagement. A common language, a willingness to listen, and rules of engagement. Once these three things are in place, the conversation can go anywhere. In a musical conversation, there are certain rules, or at least conventions. Depending on what instruments we play, we each have a sense of what role we’ll be playing within the group. This particular bunch of musicians doesn’t play together on a regular basis. I play with Thomas and Yahya, and I’ve played with Steve, but Thomas and Yayha don’t play with Steve, and the four of us have all played together exactly one time. Despite that, there are certain assumptions or expectations that we have of each other. Let’s take the blues, for example, something we just did with the kids. The blues is such a fundamental part of American popular music that almost every musician can play a basic blues. So let’s say a rock player, a country picker, and a jazzer walk into a bar. (No, this is not a joke.) If you have them all sit down and just say, let’s play a blues in G, chances are they’re going to be able to come up with something.
[MUSICIANS PLAY ALL BLUES]

Aside from the blues, there are other musical conventions in the jazz world that we call standards. A jazz standard is simply a song that most jazz musicians know. The beauty of a jazz standard is that even though everyone has the same basic information in the form of chords and melody, we are all free to interpret the information in our own way. For example.
[MUSICIANS PLAY FLY ME TO THE MOON, swing. FLY ME TO THE MOON as a Waltz.]

Again, we are all free to interpret the information in our own way. There’s a religious parallel. People can interpret the same religious texts in radically different ways depending on what they already bring to the table or how they were raised. One Christian may use the Bible to justify a war. Another Christian may be inspired by the same book to love his neighbor, and may even extend his definition of a “neighbor” to include people from all over the world. One Muslim may use the Koran as a guide for living a peaceful, harmonious life, and another may use the same book to justify a suicide bombing. That’s about as heavy as I’m going to get today. I’m just a musician. You can reflect on religious parallels while we interpret “Fly Me to the Moon” a third way.
[MUSICIANS PLAY FLY ME TO THE MOON as a Bossa Nova]

Wynton Marsalis might be a closet UU. He said, “As long as there is democracy, there will be people wanting to play jazz because nothing else will perfectly capture the democratic process in sound. Jazz means working things out musically with people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing.” Does that theme sound familiar? “You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing.”

This church has offered a class called Building Your Own Theology. Well, we’re going to build our own song. I have no idea what’s going to happen here, but whatever we play, it’ll be the result of listening to each other’s ideas, trusting each other, and building on what we hear. I’ll start off with a riff. Yahya will have to put a beat to it, while Thomas and Steve will have to figure out what key it’s in, and we’ll take it from there. We’ll step off the cliff and trust that a bridge will appear.
[MUSICIANS PLAY FREE IMPROVISATION]

We have our most meaningful musical conversations when we can establish common ground, when we listen to each other, when we work to understand each other’s ideas, and when we trust. As UUs, we have our most meaningful conversations when we can establish common ground, when we listen to each other, when we work to understand each other’s ideas, and when we trust.

Please rise in body and spirit as we sing…

CLOSING HYMN
#346 Come, Sing a Song with Me

POSTLUDE
Come, Sing a Song with Me (continues as an instrumental jam) [The postlude usually functions as exit music. We continued jamming over this hymn, letting the congregation know they were free to go to the lobby or stay and enjoy the jam. About half left and half stayed. One couple even started dancing!]

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Stone Mountain Walk

It's been a while since I've written about any of my workouts. There was almost always something interesting to write about when I was running. I've been spending a lot of time on a stationary bike, watching movies and Star Trek episodes to pass the time, which makes it a little difficult to find anything interesting to report.

This morning, I took a long walk at Stone Mountain Park. It's hard to believe I've lived in Atlanta for nearly 10 years and haven't visited the park. Shame on me! There are several paid attractions that don't hold any interest for me. You can visit the website for that. I was just there for the trails. My new neighborhood isn't the best place for walking. I figured that if I'm going to have to drive to a good walking area, it might as well be a place with bathrooms. My friend, Greg Luffey, is an ultra-runner living in New Mexico. He loves to run in wild places. I'm not sure you could pay him enough to live in a city. Still, if you forced him to live in Atlanta, I suspect he would enjoy running up, down, and all around Stone Mountain Park.

What a great place to walk! According to the website, Stone Mountain Park has 15 miles of trails, so I guess I walked about 1/3 of the trails that were available. Also, the bike path I used to walk from downtown Decatur connects with Stone Mountain. If I ever feel like going for an extremely long walk, I can add a detour to Decatur…8 miles to downtown Decatur and 8 miles back!

My 4.7 mile trek was enough for today. I just recovered from a cold, so I'm not at full strength, and the trail I chose would have challenged me even if I was at 100%. I began walking the sidewalk around the perimeter. I walked about a mile before I found the Cherokee Trail. It started off easy enough, but the next thing I knew, I was climbing over Stone Mountain, scrambling over granite. What was originally a clearly marked path was now a mountain goat trail. The only thing that kept me pointed in the right direction was a series of white hashmarks that highlighted the trail. My walking pace was a respectable 15:30 per mile while I was walking the easy trails. I sometimes slowed to 25:00 per mile as I was picking my way across the granite. The pace was slow, but my heart sure was pumping. I've read that trail runners are wise to ignore their pace and just keep track of the total time spent running. Now I see why. When I looked at my Garmin and saw that my 25:00 pace, I could only laugh.

Stone Mountain as I saw it this morning.
What goes up must come down. My pace quickened once I was heading downhill, but my quads were shaky. I'm used to walking up and down steep hills, but scrambling is a different story. Eventually, I came off the granite face and was back onto a more traditional trail. Ah! I passed through the main feature of Stone Mountain, a gigantic, mountain sized carving of Confederate generals that is the central part of what as billed as the world's longest running laser light show. I'll have to come back some time and catch the show out of morbid curiosity.

Stone Mountain, all lit up.
After passing the South's answer to Mount Rushmore, I was back on the Cherokee Trail, and it wasn't long before I found myself back on the perimeter sidewalk. I didn't realize how much cooler it was under the trees until I was back on the sunny sidewalk. My original plan was to follow the Cherokee Trail and then take the Walk Up Trail – one mile straight up and back down. My legs were still wobbly from scrambling over the granite face, so I decided to pack it in. I could have hiked up the mountain fairly easily at the start of my walk, but not at the end. My challenge will be to build up enough strength to take the same walk I took today, and then add the Walk Up Trail at the end. Another masochistic challenge would be to climb up and down multiple times…probably start with two summits, and then add more as I get stronger.

I bought an annual parking pass. It was a no brainer. It costs $10 to park for a single day, and $35 for the entire year. I plan on hitting Stone Mountain Park at least once a week. It'll give me a break from the stationary bike and give me something to look forward to. I'm already planning my next route.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Key? Accompanying a Singer

Tomorrow night, I'm playing a free duo gig at Java Monkey in Downtown Decatur. I had originally booked this as a solo gig for the purpose of keeping up my solo chops, but I've been rehearsing with an excellent singer, Lori Guy. I am already committed to playing with Tea for Two, and I don't want to overextend myself with too many musical projects. Lori and I have mainly been rehearsing just to learn tunes, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to play a little bit in public, so I invited her to the gig. We'll each take turns singing our own solos while people ignore us, nurse their coffee, and take advantage of Java Monkey's free wi-fi.

Whether I'm playing with Lori or with Lynnette Suzanne of Tea for Two, I really enjoy performing in a vocal/guitar duo. It's a big challenge to "be the band." You have to tastefully support the singer while covering harmonies, bass lines, and lead lines, and you also have to play some solos without the benefit of another instrument, which is particularly challenging for a guitarist. The singer has challenges, too. She doesn't have the benefit of a full band backing her up. She has to generate a lot of excitement and interest, but she has to be able to do so nimbly so she doesn't overpower the guitarist.

Another big challenge in accompanying singers is being able to play songs in a variety of keys. If I only had to worry about myself, I would just have to learn a song in the standard key, plus "my key" if I'm going to sing it. When I play for Lynnette, I usually have to transpose a song a 4th or 5th (4 or 5 notes) away from my key. Lori's voice is a little lower than Lynnette's, so if I'm accompanying Lori, I usually have to transpose a 3rd lower than Lynnette's key.

As Lori finds her voice, she has had me transpose songs into several different keys. I give her a hard time about it, but I enjoy the challenge of learning songs in different keys. I often have to completely rework an intro and find different chord voicings. Different chord voicings will often suggest different lead lines. In our rehearsals, when we're finding Lori's key for a song, I may have to transpose the song two or three different times, which is a great skill to develop. My transposition skills are improving. I'm not quite ready to transpose on the fly in a public setting, but I'll get there.

To me, the epitome of a great vocal/guitar jazz duo is Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald. They were both world class musicians, and when they performed together, it was magic. I aspire to play like Joe Pass when I accompany a singer. I'm not even close to his level, but I'll be doing my best Joe Pass imitation at Java Monkey tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Piano Debut

A few months ago, I started taking piano lessons. At the time, I wanted to learn both classical and jazz piano. With my busy schedule, I found it difficult to find time to work on both styles. I chose to focus on classical piano for a few different reasons. First of all, even though I'm a jazz guitarist, I found myself drawn more the classical side of piano. Second, my first major goal is to be able to play hymns for church services and choral piano accompaniments if my accompanist is absent. Classical piano focuses more on reading, which is a skill I'll need for those hymns and choir accompaniments.

My eventual goal is to be a well rounded pianist who can play classical and jazz, is a good sight-reader, is qualified to teach privately, and is equally comfortable playing for church or cocktails. I will eventually turn my attention to jazz piano, but I plan on spending a year or so getting comfortable with classical piano first.

Considering I've only been playing five months, I'm happy with my progress. Among other things, I'm working on Bach Two-Part Inventions and Chopin waltzes. That's not to say that this music is ready for performance or that I can even play it up to tempo, but I'm tackling piano music that I didn't expect to be able to play this soon.

I had planned on playing piano in public after about a year of lessons, but that timetable has been moved up. I'm playing guitar in a musical with Act3 Productions called By Wheel and By Wing. The Keyboard 2 player won't be there Friday, and I'll be covering the keyboard part for a song in which the guitar doesn't play. This is a very simple keyboard part…mostly sustained chords. Still, I'm looking forward to making my debut on keyboard, even if the part isn't challenging. It's not time to break out the candelabra just yet, but this should be fun.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Need for Speed

Wow, it's been a while since I've blogged. I've been awfully busy the past couple months. I finished up my first year as music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation, I was busy wrapping up several music engraving projects, I've played some gigs, and I'm in the middle of a short run at Act3 Productions. My schedule isn't letting up anytime soon. The final show of this Act3 run is July 7. The very next day, I'll be in the studio, recording with InTown Band, and I have a solo gig the same week. I'll also be preparing to lead a music service at NWUUC, I'm still diligently practicing piano in addition to guitar, and I'm trying to recruit more guitar students. My music engraving schedule is a little lighter right now, so I have a little more time for guitar practice.

I have a lot on my plate, but my number one goal is still to be the best guitarist I can be. Right now, my main focus is increasing my speed. For someone who hasn't been playing long, I have a pretty deep knowledge of jazz guitar chords. My improvisation is solid (although this is something I'm always striving to improve). I have a healthy repertoire of solo arrangements. The one thing that I feel is holding me back right now is my picking speed.

I'm not interested in playing fast just for the sake of playing fast. I've watched plenty of YouTube guitar wizards who can play at blazing speed but still bore me, because they're only regurgitating scales and arpeggios. I want to be able to play fast so that I have the technical ability to play whatever I need to play, whether it be a flourish in an improvised solo or a difficult guitar book for a musical production.

While my speed will naturally increase over time, it'll increase more quickly if I focus on it. I learned jazz chords by reading through the Real Book, forcing myself to learn unfamiliar chords, and subbing in big bands. I'm only going to learn to play fast by, well, by playing fast.

I've been sifting through YouTube, looking for videos with tips on increasing my picking speed. There's a lot of garbage on YouTube, but I've found a few useful videos. The credible ones all offer slightly different advice, but there are some common themes:
  • Use a thick pick.
  • Hold the pick so that very little of it is showing.
  • Keep your hand relaxed and hold the pick softly. If you hold it softly and are using just the tip of the pick, it glides more easily over the string without getting caught.
  • Economy of motion is more important than pure speed. You only want to move the pick enough to pluck the string. Any distance beyond a millimeter or two is wasted motion.
  • The picking motion comes from the wrist, and some players like to use circular picking, in which your thumb and forefinger pick in a small,  circular motion.
  • If you hold the pick at about a 45 degree angle from the string, the pick slices through the string easily without getting stuck.
  • ALL instructional videos recommended using a tremolo to develop a fast, economical picking technique. When you play a tremolo, you repeatedly play one fast note on a single string.
  • Fast playing develops as a result of coordinating the fretting hand with the picking hand. It doesn't matter how fast you can pick if you can't put it together with the moving notes of your fretting hand.
So, with all this advice, here's my plan:
  • I just spent two weeks focusing on single string tremolo. This is what many musicians call a "TV exercise." It's a pure motor skill, and it's sometimes helpful to turn on the TV so you don't get bored. I like to fire up NetFlix, watch Star Trek episodes, and practice my tremolo. It's probably a good thing that I'm single, because I've been practicing my tremolo for a total of at least an hour a day.
  • This week, I'm practicing my tremolo while moving from string to string.
  • Next, I'll start playing the tremolo to a metronome so that I can control the tempo and use the same technique whether I'm playing fast or slowly.
  • After I have more control over my tremolo with the right hand, I'll start adding notes with the left hand, playing different patterns on a single string to improve my right/left hand coordination. My goal will be to be able to cleanly play the patterns as quickly as I can play single note tremolos.
  • Then I'll start playing the same patterns, moving from string to string.
  • Then I'll practice melodic patterns, first on single strings, then moving from string to string.
  • After that, I'll start adding more musical licks and patterns that I can incorporate into my improvisation.
  • Eventually, I'll add full scales and longer licks, with the goal of being able to play them as fast as I can play a tremolo.
Throughout this process, I want to be sure to focus on making music and not just spewing out a flurry of notes. This is going to take a lot of effort, but it'll be worth it once I reach my goal, which is to gain greater mastery of the guitar and possess the technique to play whatever I need to play. This is not going to happen overnight. It took about four years to develop a real comfort with jazz guitar chords, and I imagine that this will require a similar effort. We'll see! I'll continue to write guitar arrangements, explore improvisation, and learn new songs, but speed practice will be part of my daily routine for some time to come.

I don't pretend to be an expert in the area of speed picking. If you have some tips, add a comment!