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.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Online Guitar Lessons

I'm pleased to announce that I am now offering online guitar lessons via Skype! I've been teaching a beginning student online, and I'm finding that it's a lot of fun for both of us. We're halfway across the country, but once a week, we log onto Skype and enjoy a guitar lesson together. I love guitar, and I like working on the computer, so I'm having a blast teaching online. I enjoy it so much that I've decided to hang out my virtual shingle and search for other online students.

Lessons are for beginners of all styles or intermediate students interested in learning to play jazz guitar.

If you or someone you know is interested in Skype guitar lessons, please email me for more information or to schedule some lessons! You can visit my website for general information.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lesson #7

Continuing the practice of writing about my jazz guitar lessons with Dave Frackenpohl at GSU to get a handle on my latest assignment and hopefully pass on some wisdom to other developing jazz guitarists.

We started off running through three different chromatic scale fingerings that Dave assigned last time. I played them easily enough, but Dave noticed that my left hand was tense. From now on, I'll be focusing more on relaxing my left hand.

Next, we looked at I'm Beginning to See the Light. This wasn't part of my assignment, but I wrote to Dave yesterday, asking that we begin working on this song. It's a well known standard, and I should be able to improvise on it more easily than I do. We worked through it, and by the time we were finished, I was feeling more more comfortable with the tune.

Then we played through Girl from Ipanema. Dave specifically suggested that I experiment with some Mixolydian #11 licks to fit over the dominant chords in the bridge. This went pretty well. I had stolen a lick from the classic Stan Getz solo, and Dave showed me a few more. With a little more practiced, I'll be well armed the next time I play this tune.

Finally, we played through Gone with the Wind. This tune offers plenty of chances to play ii-V licks, which I've been working on quite a bit. Part of my assignment was to transcribe the first chorus of Wes Montgomery's solo over these chord changes. This was a difficult assignment. I've completed most of the transcription, and I've learned the first half of the solo. This solo is loaded with tasty licks, and I'll steal as many as I can! One thing that strikes me about Wes Montgomery's solo playing is how bluesy everything sounds. Gone with the Wind isn't even close to being a blues tune, yet Wes manages to infuse his solos with blues sounds. It works so well! I'll be studying Wes for a long time to come.

Here's the new assignment:

  • The "Samba Intro" from The Brazilian Guitar Book by Nelson Faria. We're going to be alternating between this book and Galbraith's Guitar Comping. I'm really looking forward to expanding my range of Brazilian guitar styles.
  • Whole Tone Scales. Yes, another scale to learn. This is jazz, after all! Dave showed me three fingerings for a whole tone scale. I had already figured out two of them on my own, so it's just a matter of learning the third form. Again, we're also using scales to focus on relaxing my left hand.
  • I'm Beginning to See the Light. In addition to learning the song in greater depth, I'll be transcribing a Joe Pass solo from an Ella Fitzgerald/Joe Pass duo. I'm very much looking forward to this part of the assignment. When I perform in a voice/guitar duo setting, I will often loop the chords and then solo over the looper. Sometimes I will get brave, skip the looper, and "solo out of thin air," as Dave puts it. It's much more difficult, but I think the solos "out of thin air" sound better than the solos with the looper. Someday, I would like to leave the looper at home and solo out of thin air all the time, a la Joe Pass.
  • Gone with the Wind. I'll finish transcribing and learning the Wes Montgomery solo.
Toward the end of the lesson, I commented on an observation that I blogged about a few days ago. Through much of our lessons, we hardly ever take music out and read it. There's a big emphasis on memorizing and listening. As we worked through I'm Beginning to See the Light, I improvised better than I ever have, mainly due to the fact that I wasn't reading music. I was listening very intently. When I'm reading chord changes and improvising, I tend to get too focused on the written chords, worrying about how I'm going to navigate from one chord to the next. When I take my attention away from the page, I play more musically. I still need to know the chord changes, but taking away the written music helps me calm my analytical voice and play more intuitively. I'm assigning myself is to memorize the repertoire for Tea for Two and Godfrey and Guy. This is going to be a major undertaking, but it's going to make me a better musician in so many ways. I'll have a host of standards in my head, I'll play more musically, and I'll be really good at memorizing!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Listening and Memorizing

When I was a classical trombone player, I was blessed with excellent teachers. I feel equally lucky to have hooked up with a terrific jazz guitar teacher. It's been interesting to experience high level teachers in two different genres and instruments. As you might imagine, jazz guitar lessons are quite different from classical trombone lessons.

The biggest difference between classical trombone and jazz guitar lessons seems to be the emphasis on listening and memorization as a jazz player. There was certainly emphasis on listening as a classical musician, particularly in ensemble playing. In my jazz guitar lessons, however, there is a heavy emphasis in playing by ear versus reading as a classical trombonist.

Reading is still important as a jazz guitarist. We usually spend some time sight-reading lead sheets or duets, but for the most part, we aren't even looking at music. It's assumed that I will memorize my assignments, and I always have an "ear assignment": transcribing an improvised solo, learning to play it, and stealing licks to apply to my own improvisations.

I take a lesson every other week. A little while ago, I realized that by the time I start my second week of practicing, I'm no longer using music. It's all memorized. Through memorization, I'm internalizing the music more than I ever did as a classical player – which makes me wish I had spent more time memorizing when I was a trombone player! It's also fun to be able to practice anywhere, anytime, because the music is all in my head.

The heavy emphasis on listening has been an overall benefit. When playing gigs, I'm more attuned to what is going on around me, and I find it easier to interact with the other players.

Since memorizing the music for my lessons is so beneficial, the next logical step is to memorize the music in my own book, especially the Tea for Two and Godfrey and Guy repertoire. That's a lot of music, but with practice, I'm finding that it's becoming easier to memorize new songs. I would love to someday show up to a gig with one of my groups and not have to pull out a single sheet of music!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lesson #6

Continuing the practice of summarizing each lesson with Dave Frackenpohl and outlining each new assignment…

We usually start off playing whatever new scale has been assigned. This time, we skipped over the new scale (mixolydian bebop). I'll continue to practice this scale, along with the others Dave has assigned. We started off this lesson playing Jobim's Wave. I showed Dave an intro that he hadn't seen before. He's going to steal that from me. Dave showed me a way to play the bridge that I hadn't thought of. I'm going to steal that from him.

Then we moved on to The Girl from Ipanema. We first played it in the standard key of F, taking turns playing the melody, improvising, and comping for each other. Part of my assignment was to transcribe a solo from a recording of this tune. I had transcribed the classic Stan Getz solo, which was in the key of D-flat, which meant that I had to learn this tune in both F and D-flat. That was a good exercise!

We then went on to finish up the F Blues exercise in Barry Galbraith's Guitar Comping book. That was a long project. It took me six weeks to work my way through it, but the rewards were great. Thanks to this particular exercise, I have a lot of new chord voicings under my fingers.

Here's the new assignment:

  • Three different chromatic scale fingerings. I'm already familiar with one of them. The others aren't too tricky. These are great warm-up and technique exercises.
  • The Girl from Ipanema: We will continue to work through this song, focusing heavily on the bridge so that I can try out yet another new scale.
  • Mixolydian #11 scale: This is the new scale to try out in Girl from Ipanema's bridge. Dave gave me a sheet of different ways to use the melodic minor scale. One way to think of the myxolydian #11 is a melodic minor scale starting on the 4th scale degree. The easier way to think of it is as a myxolydian scale with a raised 4.
  • Gone with the Wind: I'll be doing quite a bit with this song! I'll be learning the Gone with the Wind comping exercise in the Galbraith Jazz Comping book. I'm also supposed to learn the melody, memorize the chords, and be able to improvise over the changes. Finally, Dave wants me to transcribe a Wes Montgomery solo from his recording of the song. Whew!
Since we were working on some Latin songs, Dave recommended The Brazilian Guitar Book by Nelson Faria. This book outlines authentic guitar comps for several Latin styles. I just ordered it and can't wait to work through it and put it to use in my gigs!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Know the Melody

When learning to improve, one piece of advice you'll come across again and again is to learn the melody. Last year, I watched Frank Vignola and Vinnie Raniolo perform. It was a terrific show. About halfway through the first set, I realized that most of the improvised sections were just variations of the melody. It was an important lesson to learn. It's one thing to understand academically that you should know the melody. It's another thing to watch a master guitarist use the melody for his own improvisation. Frank really drove the lesson home when he spoke up in the middle of one of his solos and said, "You can't go wrong with the melody!" Lesson learned.

When you learn to play the melodies of the jazz standards, you are learning the language of the music. Eventually, you may find that you are naturally inserting bits and pieces of various melodies into your improvisations. The "Cry Me a River lick" is simply the opening two measures of that song. It works beautifully over any minor chord or its relative major. I can't seem to get through a gig without quoting the first measure of So Nice.

Ray Sasaki was the trumpet teacher at my alma mater, the University of Illinois. Now he teaches at University of Texas at Austin. Ray is equally great at jazz and classical music. One piece of advice he offered for learning to improvise over a particular song was to play the melody 100 times in a row. I think anyone else would be exaggerating, but I have no doubt that Ray practiced what he preached.

Aside from using the melody as a springboard for improvisation, it can help you keep your place. I play in a quartet that reads out of a The Ultimate Jazz Fakebook and some Wikifonia charts. The Ultimate Jazz Fakebook has almost (but not quite) all the right chords, but there are enough substitute chords (or sometimes plain wrong chords) that make you do a double-take. And to be quite frank, the Wikifonia chord changes are just crap. In our last gig, we were playing a Wikifonia chart of It Had to Be You, and the chords don't make much sense. Distracted by these bizarre chords, I found myself a little lost toward the end of my solo. Fortunately, I've played and sung this song often enough that part of my brain seemed to be singing along. That's the only way I can describe it. The part of my brain that was lost started listening to the part of my brain that was singing the melody, and I got back on track and finished strong.

If you are learning a song with the intention of improvising over the chord changes, try learning the melody first. Play it again and again. Sing it in the car. If you get to the point where it drives you crazy because your brain keeps playing the song in the middle of the night, then you're doing it right.
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If you live in Atlanta and are interested in private or group guitar lessons, please check my website at www.godfreyguitar.com for more information or email me directly.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Singing and Playing

Most people pick up the guitar so they can accompany themselves while they sing. Playing guitar can be difficult enough. Singing and playing at the same time is another challenge. Here are some tips for those who are learning to play guitar and sing at the same time.

  • Practice singing separately from the guitar. This will help you learn the melody more thoroughly. The nice thing about singing is that it doesn't require any special equipment. Sing the song everywhere. Some of my most productive song learning sessions take place in the car.
  • Practice guitar separately from singing. Be sure you can play the chords smoothly before you try to put it together with the voice.
  • It's important to practice the singing and the guitar playing separately, because you have have to divide your attention when you sing and play at the same time. You want to make sure you're comfortable with both the voice part and the guitar part. If you know the song so well that you can sing it automatically, it's going to be a lot easier to play the guitar part, and vice versa.
  • Keep it simple. Once you start singing and playing at the same time, simplify the guitar part. (You can make it fancier later.) Try an easy strum, just to get used to playing chords and singing at the same time. Even after you're comfortable with the easy strumming, you might find that simple is good. Sometimes all you need is an easy rhythm and a good melody.
  • Hum the melody. Instead of singing the words, try humming the melody as you play. Sometimes the words get in the way of learning a song. If you hum (or sing a generic syllable like "la" or "doo"), it's easier to focus on the melody and the guitar playing. I think this may be because using language requires some extra brain power that takes away from your focus on the melody and the guitar chords. That's my purely unscientific opinion. After you're comfortable humming and playing, then add the words.
  • Slow down. If it's a fast song, you don't have to always sing it fast in your private practice sessions. Slow it down so that you can sing and play comfortably and gradually speed it up over the course of several sessions.
  • Use a metronome. Even if you're a rock solid rhythm guitar player, it's amazing how funky your time can get when you start singing. Play with a metronome to train yourself to keep steady time.
  • Record yourself. This can be a painful lesson. I know this from personal experience! Once you've put the song together, record yourself and do your best to listen objectively. You may sing in tune normally, but you might find that you sometimes sing out of tune when you're accompanying yourself. If you record yourself, you'll learn your tendencies. You'll also find out very quickly whether the arrangement is working. Maybe you've come up with a fancy guitar part that gets in the way of the song while you're singing. If it's a song with a lot of space in the vocal part, maybe you'll need to come up with some guitar fills here and there.
Learning to play guitar and sing at the same time can be challenging at first, but it's so much fun! If you have any other tips for learning to sing and play at the same time, please leave them in the comments section.
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If you live in Atlanta and are interested in private or group guitar lessons, please check my website at www.godfreyguitar.com for more information or email me directly.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tantrums Begone

An actual quote from my younger
days as a budding musician.
Recently, my brother didn't seem to believe me when I told him that I don't get mad and swear anymore when I practice. This is understandable. My family grew up listening to me yelling, cursing, and throwing things when I practiced trombone. Nothing I played was ever good enough for me. I could play a beautiful phrase but be mad at myself because I didn't articulate the beginning of the second measure as precisely as I wanted.

It only took me about 45 years to learn that this was not the best way to approach a practice session. You can't berate yourself for every little mistake. That kind of thinking bleeds into the rest of your life, and pretty soon, you begin belittling yourself for every little personal flaw.

I'm still a perfectionist when I practice, zeroing in on my mistakes and repeating problem spots over and over until I get them right. These days, I just go about it with a different attitude. I no longer tie my feelings of self worth to whether or not I can play every note perfectly. If I can't play a new lick, it doesn't mean I'm worthless. I just means I can't play that lick yet. Now I can approach that new lick with a calm mind and relaxed body, learning it more quickly than I could if I were berating myself.

This new attitude began to take hold when I started improvising on guitar. When I was a trombone player, I had a terrible time improvising. I wanted everything to be perfect, and that's not what improvising is about. I had only been playing guitar for about a year when I began improvising. Since I was new to the instrument, I already knew I wasn't going to sound great, so I didn't worry so much about what I sounded like. I take this same approach when I make mistakes in my practice sessions. Instead of being angry at every little misstep, I look on it as part of the overall process. My mistakes show me the fastest way to improve. As I work on my weak areas, I become a stronger musician.

Of course I still get frustrated from time to time. I'm more mature about my approach, but I'm not Buddha! However, the days of tirades and book throwing are long gone.