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.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Slow and Unsteady

Weight loss at my age can be a challenge. When I was younger, losing weight was pretty easy. Once I put my mind to it, I could count on weighing less every couple days. Now, at the ripe old age of almost 47, my body fights to hold onto every ounce of fat.

Every day, I complete the same workout, and I eat nearly the same foods all the time. With a steady, predictable routine, you'd think that I would enjoy steady, predictable weight loss, but you would be wrong! For example, I had been stuck on the same weight for a week, and then suddenly I dropped 2.5 pounds between yesterday and today. This has been my new norm since getting back on the weight control bandwagon.

It's easy to feel frustrated when the bathroom scale is stuck on the same number for days and days. During these periods, I have to remind myself that this is all a numbers game. As long as I am careful with my diet and relentless with my exercise, I'll get rid of the weight that I want to lose – just not as steadily as I would like!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Lesson #9

I'm continuing to summarize my lessons with Dave Frackenpohl at GSU to absorb the new lesson assignment and help others who may be on the same path.

After a short warm-up, Dave had me play Wes Montgomery's solo from his recording of Gone with the Wind. In our last lesson, I had to play it very slowly to get through it. Dave asked me to keep working on it and build up speed. I managed to increase the tempo from quarter = 80 to quarter = 110. I didn't play it well at this lesson. I probably counted it off too fast. Dave suggested some fingerings to help get through the more challenging licks.

Next, I requested that we work on It's Only a Paper Moon, specifically for unaccompanied improvisation. We worked through it, not just for soloing, but for comping styles. There's more on this below, where I write out my new assignment.

Then we turned to The Brazilian Guitar Book, where I'm working through the "Samba" chapter. We didn't do much with this. I'm learning the patterns pretty well, and he assigned a few more pages.

Toward the end of the lesson, I played Joe Pass' solo in the Ella/Joe Pass recording of I'm Beginning to See the Light. I had to play it very slowly, and so my next assignment is to work it up to speed.

The new assignment:

  • Whole Tone Licks: Dave assigned three different whole tone scale fingers a few weeks ago, which I've been practicing daily. Now he's given me a sheet of whole tone licks to incorporate into my improvisation. Learning a scale is like learning the letters of the alphabet. Learning a lick is like forming those letters into a word. Incorporating that lick into your playing is like learning to use that word in a sentence. It takes time, but that lick eventually becomes part of your vocabulary. I'll focus two or three of these licks at a time.
  • It's Only a Paper Moon: Part of this assignment is to find a solo that I like and to transcribe it. For unaccompanied soloing, Dave has given me a few options to try. There's his 2/2 plan, where you comp for two measures and then solo for two measures (or vice versa). Comping works particularly well in this song, because there are usually two chords in every measure. With so much harmonic activity, you can just comp and it still sounds like you're doing something. For soloing, he suggested arpeggiating chords. For comping behind a singer, he showed me a couple common Joe Pass arpeggio patterns, and then there's the classic Freddie Green comping that always works so well. Sometimes all you need to do is play quarter notes to lay down a nice groove for the singer.
  • The Brazilian Guitar Book: I'm continuing to work through the "Samba" chapter. The last two assignments have been page after page of short samba patterns. Dave has given me a choice between a long comping etude or a chord/melody solo. I'll check them both out today to see which one seems more manageable.
  • I'm Beginning to See the Light: I'll continue working on the Joe Pass solo, gradually bringing it up to speed.
As usual, I'm excited to be working on unaccompanied soloing. I'm also enjoying The Brazilian Guitar Book. I've worked through a lot of fun patterns. Now I need to start applying them to my own repertoire. To do this, I'll pull out some Latin songs in my book and sketch out some rhythmic patterns. Eventually, I'll be able to play these Latin grooves at will, but for now I need to write them out so that I can remember them.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Focused Practice

Lately, I've noticed that my most productive practice sessions often occur when my schedule is tight and I'm squeezing in a few minutes.

If I have a relatively free day, I'll take my own sweet time on all my practice material. I may practice a particular song or exercise for 20-30 minutes before moving on to something else. By the time I get to the last couple items on my agenda, I'm mentally drained, and I end up going through the motions. Now, I enjoy these marathon sessions when I have the luxury of time, but there's something to be said for shorter sessions as well.

On the other hand, sometimes it seems like I can get just as much done in a short, focused practice session. If I know that I can only squeeze in a few minutes here and there throughout the day, then I'm going to make sure each 10-20 minute practice session counts. If I only have 10 minutes, I may spend those 10 minutes on a single solo transcription. I may even spend that time working on just 8-16 bars, focusing mostly on the most difficult measures.

I've been pleasantly surprised by how much progress I can make when I practice in short bursts like this. I first noticed this when my teaching load began to increase. I like to schedule lessons with 10-15 minutes between students. Waiting for the next student, and with nothing else to do, I would practice a song, exercise, or a scale until the next student arrived. When it was time for my big "official" practice session, I realized that I had already practiced most of what needed work, and that I had improved significantly.

I'm going to begin practicing in short, focuses mini-sessions, even when I have a big block of time. I think a good approach will be to start with 20 minutes of technique, and then take a break to do something else. Then come back to the guitar and focus on a single song or exercise for 10-15 minutes, take a break to do something else, etc. This is all a big experiment, but I think this approach will help me come to each to mini-session fresh and focused.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Challenging Assignment

I'm taking another lesson in a few days. Wow, has this assignment been challenging! There are some motor skill assignments that aren't too bad, including more samba patterns and a Wes Montgomery solo. I've already worked out the solo, so now it's just a matter of playing with a metronome and drilling to build up speed.

I transcribed a Joe Pass solo for the next lesson. (I'm Beginning to See the Light from his Sophisticated Lady album with Ella Fitzgerald.) The transcription was difficult, but now it's just a matter of woodshedding to get the solo under my fingers.

The biggest challenge in my current assignment is more conceptual than physical. As I've mentioned in earlier blog posts, I'm working on being able to consistently solo well without any accompaniment. My dream is to be able to ditch the looper and fly completely solo.

The first step in this path is to simply comp for two bars and then improvise for two bars over a set of changes (and also reverse that – improvise first and then comp). This can scramble your brain. Most of us are used to just comping or just soloing, not mixing the two. Soloing this way from memory is a surefire way to make sure you know the chord changes! This has been a challenge for me, but I'm getting used to it.

The biggest challenge is the other concept my teacher assigned, which is to play melody for two bars and then improvise for two bars (and vice versa). It's pretty easy to do this when you're looking at the music, but this is all from memory. If you think you've memorized a melody thoroughly, just give this a try! It's one thing to play the melody of a jazz standard straight through. It's a greater challenge to improvise and then jump back to the melody the middle of a phrase! Maybe in a few months this will be old hat, but by then, my teacher will have thrown me another curve ball. (How's that for mixing metaphors?)

I've certainly hooked up with the right teacher in Dave Frackenpohl. Each lesson takes me closer to being the guitarist I know I can be.

No Show

A new student didn't show up to his lesson today. It comes with the territory. It's not the first time, and it won't be the last. I had a feeling he wasn't going to be here. This was an adult student – a really good blues player who wanted to play jazz standards. In our first lesson, he seemed resistant to improving his music reading abilities, which is a problem. He told me that he wants to be able to do what I do. Now, a big part of my rapid progress as a guitarist is my ability to read music. If you want to be able to do what I do, but you're not willing to improve your reading, then you're not going to be able to do what I do, period.

Many self taught guitarists seem to think that being able to read music is a secondary skill. They point to this guitar player or that guitar player as an example of a successful musician who doesn't read music. These are guitarists who have so much inborn talent and drive that they would have found a way to succeed whether the could read or not. Believe me, those players are the exceptions. I don't know of a single musician who wishes he could give up his reading skills.

Losing this student is my fault. I should never have accepted him in the first place. From now on, when an adult intermediate contacts me about jazz guitar lessons, I will make it abundantly clear that if they want to take lessons from me, they will be learning to read.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Eating Out and Losing Weight

About 20 years ago, I won an audition to play trombone in an Air Force band. I was overweight, and so I lost 60 pounds in two months to qualify for Air Force basic training. Yes, I literally lost a pound a day over the course of two months! There were several factors in my favor. First and foremost was a job waiting for me as soon as I met the physical requirements. In addition, I was playing in the Ohio Light Opera. The Ohio Light Opera is a summer lyric theater festival that houses and pays its musicians. After an initially heavy rehearsal schedule, the workload is pretty light. With food and housing taken care of, my only responsibility was to show up for rehearsals and shows. That left a LOT of free time. I walked 8 miles and worked out every morning, practiced the trombone, played shows, and spent a lot of time being hungry. Looking back, I can see that my circumstances were absolutely perfect for someone motivated to lose a lot of weight. It was surreal to step on the scale every morning and watch that number go down every morning.

I also had the benefit of a 26 year old's metabolism.

These days, as I lose weight once again, I don't have any of the benefits I enjoyed that summer with the Ohio Light Opera. My schedule is erratic as I juggle gigs, rehearsals, music engraving, lessons, and a church music job.

The biggest challenge is trying to lose weight while eating out. It's tricky, but it can be done. I eat mostly at home, but I often eat out when gigging, teaching, and working at the church. The key for me is to plan ahead so that I make good choices.

When you play gigs, particularly restaurant gigs, you usually get fed. Since a meal is often part of the payment agreement, you sometimes feel like you want get your money's worth. It's not that different from the mindset most of us have when we pay for a buffet. We want to load up that plate! Instead of searching the menu for a hefty meal, I'll go for a salad and a low calorie appetizer.

There are a couple restaurants that I visit regularly: a local Mexican place across the street from where I teach lessons, and a Blimpie near my church. The Mexican place is fairly inexpensive, and I used to order three tacos, rice, and refried beans. (And then I would leave, feeling like I'd eaten a bowling ball.)  Now, I just order a couple fish tacos. My meals at Blimpie have always been healthy…except for the cookies I always ordered. Now, I skip the cookies.

So far, in spite of a crazy schedule with a lot of eating out, I've managed to lose 19 pounds. My biggest challenge this summer will be the UUMN conference in Dallas. I'll be eating on the road, staying at a hotel for four days, and meeting lots of other musicians and music directors. There will be an enormous temptation to indulge. Just as I do at home, I'll have to plan ahead, seek out restaurants with healthy foods, and be vigilant.

Friday, May 17, 2013

What a Workout!

Joe Pass
I've been transcribing a Joe Pass solo for an upcoming lesson. (I'm Beginning to See the Light, from the Sophisticated Lady album with Ella Fitzgerald) What a workout! I used to think I had a good ear! As a freshman at the University of Illinois, I tested out of the first two semesters of ear training classes. Even if I can't always play them right away, I can transcribe single line solos pretty well, and I'm a solid sight-singer. Joe Pass solos are a different beast. Joe Pass was a master of playing unaccompanied guitar solos, which is an aspiration of mine. He played a lot of block chords with close harmonies, which are much more difficult to pick out than single line melodies.

I just spent over an hour transcribing eight measures of a Joe Pass solo. I was able to find a few chord voicings right away, but I had to puzzle out most of them. If I couldn't figure out a voicing right away, I would listen for the highest and lowest note of each chord (the two easiest notes to hear). This gave me a reference point, and then I could begin to fill in the chord from there. I would listen for a minor, major, or dominant sound, and then I would experiment with different voicings of the same chord until I found a match.

A quote from a Joe Pass DVD has helped immensely. In the introduction (I don't remember which DVD), he said, "What I play is easy." He wasn't being facetious. Whenever I watch a video of Joe Pass performing, he almost always grabs easy chord forms. I used the "this is easy" concept as a guideline to find the simplest way to grab each chord.

As I transcribe this solo, I really am struck by the simplicity of what Joe Pass played. He took basic guitar voicings and put them together in brilliant ways. I can already tell that I'll be reaping tremendous benefits from transcribing this and other Joe Pass solos. As I puzzle out each new voicing, I am either picking up new chord voicings or learning new ways to use voicings I already know. Eventually, this will become part of my own vocabulary as I explore unaccompanied improvisation.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lesson #8

Continuing my practice of writing about each lesson with Dave Frackenpohl at GSU to help wrap my head around each new assignment and help other jazz guitarists who may be on the same path.

These past couple weeks have not been ideal for practicing my lesson material. I took a last minute gig a couple weeks ago, I've been doing the usual busywork that accompanies the end of a church year, and I've been preparing for a wedding gig by assembling a book for the bass player, writing up set lists, and a host of other niggling details that go into putting together a successful gig.

In spite of all that, I managed to make some progress on my lesson material. I didn't have time for every part of the assignments, but I worked up more than I thought I could.

We began with the three whole tone scale forms that Dave assigned and then went into the assignment from the new Brazilian Guitar Book. Then we played through I'm Beginning to See the Light. After that, we worked on Gone with the Wind, focusing especially on a Wes Montgomery solo that I just finished transcribing. That pretty much exhausted the material that I had prepared, but we still had plenty to work on.

We spent time talking about improvising without any back-up. It looks like we're going to be spending some lesson time on this for the foreseeable future, and I couldn't be happier! Dave gave me a sheet of ideas and strategies for pure solo improvising called Unaccompanied Jazz Guitar – Making It Manageable. This one page sheet is an absolute gold mine of ideas! We're going to focus on just one or two ideas at a time, which is good, because I think my brain would overload if I tried everything at once.

Here's my new assignment:

  • Continue the "Samba" section of The Brazilian Guitar Book, pages 30-36. These are all four-measure examples of samba groove variations.
  • Finish the transcription of a Joe Pass solo over I'm Beginning to See the Light. I had started this for this week's lesson but hadn't had time to finish it.
  • Increase the tempo of the Wes Montgomery Gone with the Wind solo that I transcribed. I was happy just to memorize it for today. Now I just need to get it closer to tempo.
  • Memorize Summertime and Corcovado. I already have Summertime memorized. I kinda sorta know Corcovado by memory just because I've performed it a number of times. We are using these two practice unaccompanied improvising. I'll be using two strategies for this. One is what Dave called the "2+2" plan: 2 bars of comping/2 bars of soloing and vice versa. The other is also a "2+2" plan: 2 bars of comping or solo/2 bars of melody or vice versa. I thought I knew the melody of Fly Me to the Moon pretty well until Dave had me try this approach! It was awfully tricky to jump from comping or soloing and pick up the melody in the middle. Back to the woodshed!
Unaccompanied soloing is one of the major skills I want to possess, so I'm super excited about this new direction!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Class of One

I've been very happy with my teaching practice lately. First of all, I'm enjoying private teaching more and more. I tried teaching privately a few years ago, but in spite of my music education degree, I just hadn't spent enough time playing guitar to speak with any kind of authority. Now that I have more playing under my belt, I can combine my playing experience with my education degree to become an effective teacher.

I recently began teaching beginning guitar classes at Tessitura – one for adults and one for youngsters. Each class is eight weeks. So far, each class has exactly one student! I'm not worried about the numbers, though. I'd rather teach a class of one than a class of none. It's a start. I only began teaching privately at Tessitura five or six months ago, and this is the first time we are offering guitar classes. I am confident that the next round of classes will be larger. Until recently, Tessitura focused exclusively on early childhood music classes and keyboard classes. Guitar is a new thing at the studio. We held a recital at Tessitura last week, and one of my beginning students performed. After the recital, one of the parents approached me about guitar lessons for him and his son. As the guitar students become more visible at Tessitura, my student roster will grow.

Lynnette, Tessitura's owner, had a great idea that we're going to pursue: family guitar lessons. Tessitura is such a family oriented studio that this makes a lot of sense. I think it would be a lot of fun to teach a family, and with parents taking part, the family would be able to help each other practice at home.

Overall, I'm super excited about my prospects as a guitar teacher in Atlanta. My goal in the next 2-3 years is to develop a thriving studio filled with excited young (and not so young) guitar students.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Last Time

I've lost track of the number of times I've lost a significant amount of weight, only to regain. This is probably the fifth time. I'm not sure. I almost got it right last time, but I got lazy and stopped keeping track of my eating habits. I kept telling myself that I could eat what I want because I was still exercising regularly. If only!

The good news is that I'm nowhere near the 320+ pounds that I weighed the last time. Not only is this good because I have fewer pounds to lose than I did a couple years ago, but it's also good because I've caught myself in time. In the past, every time I've regained weight, I've ended up weighing even more than before. Not this time.

I'm good at fooling myself into believing that I'm really not gaining that much weight, especially when I stop stepping on the scale every morning. A few months ago, I realized that there are some clothes in the closet that I don't wear anymore. My belt was on its last notch, and even then, I was testing its limit. Still, I didn't quite let myself believe I had gained too much weight until I saw a recent picture of myself. Finally, I bit the bullet and stepped on the scale. While I knew I was going to be heavy, I was actually heartened that I hadn't gained a much as I thought. It was still a lot of weight to gain, but I was afraid I was going to be heavier.

And no, I'm not going to give out that number. That's between my scale and me.

So I'm back on track. I've lost 14 pounds since I started keeping track of my weight again. I'm awesome at losing weight! The trick is to maintain it when I reach my goal. This really, really, REALLY has to be the last time I go on a major weight loss campaign. Last time, I stopped weighing myself and keeping track of my eating habits, figuring that exercise alone would keep my weight down. This time, the plan will be to monitor myself for the rest of my days. Last time, last time…