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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Skype Lessons

I just finished a Skype lesson with an old friend, Matt, who is currently deployed in Afghanistan. What a way to reconnect! It's amazing to me to help a beginning guitar player halfway around the world, and I also found it amusing that he had to remove his gun belt at the beginning of his lesson.

Aside from growing up in rural Illinois, Matt and I have a few other things in common. We were both trombone players. I was in the Air Force. Matt is currently in the Air Force. (I left after 4 years, but Matt has made a career of it.) As adults, each of us talked to our wives (now my ex) about how we really wanted to start playing guitar…enough that they got tired of hearing about it and eventually bought guitars for us. Matt is even interested in folk/bluegrass with a possibility of playing jazz at some point.

Today's lesson was lots of fun. It was wonderful to reconnect, and Matt did really well for his first lesson. We began by working on A minor and E chords, and then we progressed to C and G7. Matt did remarkably well in forming the C and G7 chords. He actually played the C chord correctly on the first try, which is rare for a beginner. We decided that this was probably because trombone players are naturally gifted. That's our theory, anyway. Toward the end of the lesson, we began applying the C and G7 chords to Jambalaya. This is always a good song for starters. It's catchy, fun to sing, and only has two chords. I had also forgotten that Matt has a good voice, so it's going to be a lot of fun to help him learn songs.

Matt has ordered a guitar method book. Being inconveniently located in Afghanistan, overnight delivery is out of the question. It'll be a couple weeks before that book arrives, but we have plenty of material in the meantime. Once that book arrives, we'll spend about half the time on chords/songs and the other half in the book.

This was just a fun lesson overall – reconnecting with a friend who has the potential to be a good guitar player. I'm looking forward to our next lesson!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Children's Choir

Today was a long day, but it was a good one. I led the church choir in the morning, led a children's choir rehearsal in the early afternoon, and then played a gig in the afternoon. It was all good. The adult choir did a good job, and the gig went well, but the highlight of my day was the children's choir.

Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation has been wanting a children's choir for a few years. I believe one of my predecessors, Sarah Dan Jones, started working with the children when she was music director. I don't recall if my immediate predecessor, Kathy Kelly George, led a children's choir or not. I do know that Kathy is excellent at working with children's choirs, and I had the privilege of observing one of her rehearsals a few months ago.

This is the first time Northwest UUC has had a children's choir for a long time. Today was their first rehearsal, and it was my first experience leading a children's choir. I had a blast! I expected maybe five children to show up this first time, so I was pleasantly surprised when we had about a dozen. After a quick warm-up, I taught them two easy songs. For the most part, the kids stayed on pitch, and they picked up on the words fairly quickly. Aside from teaching the music, my main focus was in getting them to sing out. We could see the parking lot from the window. To help them project, I told them to pretend they were singing to someone outside.

Some of today's highlights:

  • A few of the children were wearing their Halloween costumes, which reminded me that last year at this time, I was having the kids help me write a song. That was a striking coincidence.
  • When I led them through a breathing exercise, one of the girls raised her hand and told me that her choir teacher does the same thing. I took this as a sign that I wasn't completely clueless.
  • After the rehearsal, one little boy came up to me with the lead sheet I had handed out and asked if he could use it to make a paper airplane.
  • At the beginning of the rehearsal, one boy told me that he didn't want to sing. I told him that this was fine, but if he wasn't going to sing, he needed to be quiet during rehearsal. He stayed way in the back, and soon I noticed that he was singing along with everyone else. At the end of the rehearsal, he declared that he would like to sing after all.
This was such a rewarding experience for me, and I hope that this will be a fun and rewarding experience for the children. I'm so very glad I started this. I'm looking forward to working with these kids and getting to know them, and I can't wait to showcase them in a music service. My favorite part of being a school band director was working with beginners. It appears that this love for teaching beginners extends to singers, too.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lesson #15

This is my usual recap following a jazz guitar lesson with Dave Frackenpohl of GSU.

We started off sight-reading from some books that Hal Leonard had sent to Dave. I was interested in perusing the Hal Leonard Jazz Guitar method, which looks like a very useful book for a couple students of mine.

After that little warm-up, we dove right into Blues for Alice. I played the melody in two different registers, played the piano solo I had transcribed, and then improvised. No problems here. Then we moved on to the Joe Pass solo from his recording of 'Tis Autumn with Ella Fitzgerald. I got through it okay, which is the best result I could have expected. My assignment was to finish the transcription and then start learning it. At this point, I have the solo memorized. It's just a matter of woodshedding until it's under my fingers. We followed this with an arpeggio exercise over a harmonic minor scale. No problems. Then we worked on There Will Never Be Another You, starting with an arpeggio exercise that I had created for over the chord changes and then improvising. Again, this went well, and we ended the lesson with a page from the Blues in All Keys study from Galbraith's Guitar Comping book.

The new assignment.

  • Learn Four. I played this tune a long time ago, but it's time to get it going again. It's one of those bebop standards that you just have to know…plus it's fun. I'll be refreshing myself on the melody and changes this week. I predict that, at the next lesson, Dave will tell me transcribe a solo from a recording of Four. Dave is beginning to consistently assign bebop tunes. These are great for my technique.
  • More Joe Pass! I had started to transcribe Joe's ending in his recording with Ella. Part of my Joe Pass assignment is to finish that. Then I'm supposed to pick out a medium tempo Joe and Ella song, begin a new solo transcription, and pick out devices that Joe uses when he's comping for Ella. I've selected You Took Advantage of Me for this part of the assignment.
  • Arpeggio Exercise over Melodic Minor. I've worked up arpeggio exercises for major and harmonic minor, in which I outline 7th chords, ascending on the 1 chord, descending on 2, etc. This is the same exercise using the melodic minor scale. (For non-jazz players…In jazz theory, the melodic minor has the same raised 6th and 7th both ascending and descending. In classical theory, the melodic minor reverts to natural minor descending.)
  • Old Devil Moon. When asked which jazz standard I'd like to work on next, I asked for Old Devil Moon. I like this song, but it's awkward, and I'd like to play it better.
  • Galbraith's Guitar Comping. I'll be working on the next page of the Blues in All Keys study. I just finished the page that covers G-flat and B, which aren't exactly the most common blues keys! Next up are the keys of E and A – much more guitar friendly.
As usual, Dave has given me a challenging assignment. I discovered a while ago that jazz guitar lessons are quite different from the classical trombone lessons of my younger days. In classical trombone lessons, there were few long term projects except for solo and recital material. I was assigned a set of etudes, I learned them, and then I was assigned yet another set of etudes. The "long term" assignment was really to apply the fundamentals of good tone and articulation to each new set of exercises.

With my jazz guitar studies, the individual assignments are often long term. I'll work on the same song or transcription for 2, 3, or even 4 lessons in a row. With lessons spaced every other week, that means that I will sometimes be working on the same song for two months. Learning to play jazz and improvise is such an internal process that it often takes a long time for new concepts to settle in and become a natural part of your playing. Often, learning to play a particular song or transcription is almost a byproduct. The real payoff is internalizing new ideas that you can apply to everything else you play.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Good Day

This was a mighty fine day in the life of this working musician.

I started off with a workout, as usual. I cranked out 34 push-ups. Only a few months ago I could only manage two. After a short practice session, I checked my email and found a gig waiting for me, courtesy of an event planner. This is the third gig that this event planner has booked for me, which is a very good sign. She followed that up with an email asking for the different musical configurations I have to offer (solo, duo, trio, vocals, no vocals, instrumentation), saying that she'd like to make me one of her "go to" musicians. That's music to my ears. I've been trying to get my foot in the door with an event player (any event planner) for quite a while, and this is a welcome development.

As I stepped outside to run an errand and grab lunch, it truly felt like autumn, my favorite season. It was sunny but crisp. The wind was blowing, and the leaves were falling like rain. It was beautiful.

In the afternoon, I drove to Northwest UUC, where I am the music director. I planned the evening's choir rehearsal and answered/wrote a few emails before a staff meeting, which started off with celebrating Terry, our minister's, birthday. The meeting was a good one. We spent most of the time discussing issues surrounding our church's upcoming experiment with expanding from one to two services. That's a hot topic, to put it mildly, and will be the topic of another blog article soon to come.

Rainbow Loom Bracelet
After our meeting, I taught a couple guitar lessons. One lesson was with an adult student who is making very good progress. The other lesson was with an 8 year old girl who is a joy to teach. She's so enthusiastic and funny. This week, she had a present for me. She had made a rainbow loom bracelet for me, which I proudly wore for the rest of the day. That small gift really made my day.

We had a good choir rehearsal in the evening. We're all set for Sunday's service, and we made good progress on some November music. I reserved 15 minutes at the end of rehearsal to talk with the choir about the upcoming two-service experiment and how it will affect the music program. Again, this is the topic of a future blog article, but for now, it's enough to say that it was a good discussion. I received a lot of good feedback that will help me decide how to handle scheduling music for two services, and in our general discussion, they brought up a couple issues that I hadn't considered. I'm glad we had the discussion, and I'll be consulting with them again as we get further into planning the church's overall schedule.

As usual, this was a busy day, and because I wear many hats, the day offered a lot of variety. Yup, a good day. I could stand to have more days like this.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Teaching Outside the Box

I often experience a bit of déjà vu when teaching beginning guitar students, because they usually share similar problems. The lessons can blur as I teach one student after another, but there are some lessons that stand out.

Today, I had a delightful lesson with an 8 year old student named Ella. I teach at her home, usually with her mom in the background observing the lesson and her sister, Lane, doing homework. Ella is a fun student. She loves playing the guitar, and she has a lot of personality. She is hilarious, actually. We're at a point in her lesson books where Ella is stuck. We can't go forward in the books, but I don't want to keep reassigning the same pages, because she will get frustrated.

Rather than doggedly trudge through the books, I've veered away a bit. We're still working in her lesson books to some extent, but I've started writing material for Ella to reinforce what she has already learned. For example, last week, I surprised Ella by writing a song for her called Elegy for Ella.

Today's lesson was so fun! We started off by playing a song in one of her lesson books. She had problems in a couple spots. Then I noticed that one of the difficult spots had the same notes that you often hear cheerleaders shouting at games. "Let's go warriors, let's go!"  After I pointed this out to her, she played those two measures more smoothly. Then Ella noticed that the last two measures were the same notes as We Will Rock You. Perfect! We changed a dry lesson song into an interesting song that had two school cheers. I reassigned the song, but wrote in the words to the two school cheers above the usic, and the song suddenly has new life and meaning to Ella.

Ella did a fine job on Elegy for Ella. We took turns playing the melody and chords for each other. It's a pretty long song for her (a whopping 16 measures!), so we're continuing to work on it. Since it's "her" song, Ella doesn't seem to mind working on it some more.

Last week, I wrote out a "mystery song" for Ella. She was supposed to learn it and figure out what it was. She solved the mystery. (It was Jingle Bells.) She asked for a Halloween song. There aren't a whole lot of Halloween carols, so I wracked my brains and finally came up with Have You Seen the Ghost of John. I wrote out the first four measures of that, and now Ella has a Halloween song to practice.

It was wonderful to see the spark come back in Ella's eyes as we modified her lesson material to suit her needs, and I think we're sparking some creativity, too. I sent a PDF of music manuscript paper to her mom to print out, suggesting that Ella might try writing a song. Instead of notes, Ella came up with lyrics. Next week, I'll help her write some notes and chords to go with her lyrics. This will be a fun long-term project.

As if the lesson wasn't fun enough, I had a delightful time with the family afterwards. Her older sister came in and showed me an instrument that she built for a class project. It was two boards held together at a 90 degree angle. Seven strings of various lengths were attached, and you could pluck them to produce different notes.

And as if THAT wasn't fun enough, while Ella was having her lesson, Lane was busy in the kitchen making a treat for everyone. She had squeezed out some clementines, added a little water, and made little glasses of clementine juice for everyone. She had set out paper plates and written our names on the plates so we'd know which one was ours. Added to each plate was a little piece of clementine with a toothpick stuck in it. It was so cute!

And I get paid for this!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Unexpected Concert

A beautiful thing happened on the way to my guitar lesson. I drove into a parking garage near the Rialto Center. As I was walking out, a man from the office in the parking garage saw my Taylor guitar case and started asking questions. It was pretty obvious from his questions that he knew a thing or two about guitars. He asked if he could play it. I had plenty of time before my lesson, so I said, sure. I expected maybe a few C and G chords, but he launched into a really terrific arrangement of Satin Doll. He sounded great! You just never know when another guitar player is going to pop out of the woodwork. It was such a special moment to be treated to a mini-concert in a downtown Atlanta parking garage.

Lesson #14

I am continuing my practice of recapping my jazz guitar lessons with Dave Frackenpohl, who teaches at GSU. This helps me wrap my head around each new lesson assignment, and I hope that it helps others who may be on the same path.

I went into this lesson less prepared than usual, but I had a good excuse. Last week, I was preparing for a 3.5 hour solo guitar gig with no vocals and no looper. I put my lesson material aside for a week to prepare for that gig. As expected, I had an okay lesson…not terrible, but not great. It happens.

We started off by playing There Will Never Be Another You. It went well. I thought I was done with this tune, but no! Dave assigned an arpeggio exercise to go along with this song. (You can skip down to the "new assignment" part of this article if you absolutely can't wait to see the arpeggio exercise.) The exercise can be done with any song, but we're sticking with this one.

Next, I played my new harmonic minor arpeggio exercise…outline the 1 chord up, the 2 chord down, etc., working my way up and down the scale. Dave reassigned this exercise, suggesting some more comfortable fingerings.

We then played Blues for Alice. I had to play this pretty slowly. I have the song memorized, but it's a really awkward melody on guitar (and perhaps on other instruments, too). I'm to continue working on this one, building up speed.

Then I played a page of the Blues in Twelve Keys exercise from Galbraith's Guitar Comping book. No problems here.

Finally, we sight-read a duet that was transcribed from a Joe Pass and Herb Ellis recording. Dave enjoys sight-reading guitar duets at the end of my lessons. I'm a strong sight-reader, and I think Dave likes to read this material with me. I certainly enjoy it.

The New Assignment

The new assignment looks a lot like the old assignment, but with some new wrinkles.

  • Continue transcribing a Joe Pass solo. This is Joe's solo from his and Ella's recording of 'Tis Autumn. I've transcribed a pretty fair chunk of it, but I set it aside when I began preparing for the solo guitar gig.
  • There Will Never Be Another You arpeggio exercise. This is a pretty straightforward exercise, but Dave suggested a few chord substitutions that will slow me down for a time. The exercise is to arpeggiate 7th chords from the changes, starting with the 7th, so the upward pattern is 7-1-3-5. I am also supposed to reverse that, going from high to low in a 5-3-1-7 pattern. When I get used to that, then I'll be ascending on one chord and descending on the next. There are a couple dominant chords that don't function as dominant chords (in the standard key of Eb, there is a Db9 and an F7, neither of which function as dominants). Dave suggested altering the 5th (sharp or flat) for those chords.
  • Harmonic Minor Arpeggio Exercise. I'll keep plugging away at this, using the more efficient fingerings Dave showed me. When I'm able to play this smoothly, I'll have a melodic minor arpeggio exercise to tackle.
  • Blues for Alice. Build speed on the melody, and find a solo to transcribe, but just one chorus.
  • Galbraith's Guitar Comping. Add another page from the Blues in Twelve Keys etude. This new page covers the keys of Gb and B…not your most common blues keys!
A recurring word in this article is "reassign." Except for Blues for Alice, which I honestly don't like, I don't mind repeating material from lesson to lesson. I find that my playing improves overall when I explore the possibilities of one song in greater and greater depth.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Little Composer

I just returned from a fun lesson with Joel, an eight year old guitar student who is exploring his creative side. He has written two melodies, complete with chords, and tells me that he is halfway finished with writing another one. I'm super thrilled about this!

It's exciting to see a young student find a creative voice through composition. As a bonus, Joel's general note-reading ability has skyrocketed. In writing out his melodies, Joel has to think about the notes he is writing, the rhythms, and how he is going to play them. By doing this, he is processing and internalizing a lot of information. Today, Joel read two new lesson assignments nearly perfectly the first time, and I believe this is due in no small part to his endeavors in composition.

Joel doesn't have any idea what chords to write for his melodies yet. His chords are quite random, and so I edit those pretty heavily. For his next lesson, I'll bring in a chart with the chords he knows, spelling them out note by note so that he starts to get an idea of which chords may go with his melodies. I'll also suggest chord groups that often go together (G/C/D7, Am/E/C, etc.). Joel is quite the explorer on the guitar. He likes to know how things work, and so I think we'll be getting into the rudiments of music theory pretty soon.

I see some of myself in young Joel. When I was around 12 years old, I began writing music. It wasn't great, but I enjoyed it, and the writing made me eager to learn music theory, because it helped in my writing.

After having this experience with teaching Joel and seeing his note reading accelerate, I'm going to encourage other young students to begin writing. I'm not going to make it a requirement, but I will give them some staff paper and gently encourage them.