My younger guitar students are always surprised to learn that I take lessons from a teacher, too. Surprise, surprise, I don't know everything about guitar. I may be further down the path than my own students, but and I am a student, too.
My own teacher, Dave Frackenpohl, is taking time off during the summer, so I've had a couple months without a lesson. I'm continuing to practice the lesson material he last assigned, though, because these lessons with Dave are paying dividends.
Jazz guitar is such a different animal than classical trombone. When I was a classical trombonist, it was fairly simple to measure my progress. I couldn't play a certain etude at first, and then I could. Or I could play with fewer cracked notes or expand my high range. My progress as a jazz player is harder to gage, because the nature of the music is more ephemeral. With classical trombone, I would practice the same solo over and over until I got it right. Because jazz is improvisatory, you never play the same solo twice.
I can't use a specific solo or exercise as a measure of progress, but I can get a sense of my progress by my comfort level when improvising.
We work on a variety of things in my lessons that have helped me to develop as a jazz musician, but I think the most important is transcription. I transcribe solos of great jazz musicians and learn to play them. This helps me understand how these world class musicians crafted their solos. It also gives me an opportunity to steal licks from the greats. There might be a couple measures of a solo that I especially like. I'll take that lick, learn to play it in all keys, and find ways to use it in my own solos. It's very similar to learning a new vocabulary word. You learn its meaning and how to spell it. Then you learn to use it in a sentence. At first, you may feel awkward using the new word, but the more you use it, the more natural it feels, until it is a regular part of your vocabulary. Then you learn a new word.
I've noticed that my solos are becoming more coherent over the past few months. Sometimes it feels like I actually have something to say instead of just babbling. I still play my share of crappy solos. It's all made up, after all, and sometimes you paint yourself into a corner. Still, I'm feeling a greater confidence in my soloing these days, and I owe a lot of that to Dave.
- 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.