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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Looper Practice

I set up my own practice room a few days ago. Since this spot in my apartment is dedicated to guitar and only guitar, I can leave my essential practice tools set up and ready to be used at any time, including the small pedal in front of the chair in the picture. This is a looper, which records what I play and then plays it back through the amp. I use a bigger version of this looper for some gigs. I'll record the chords while I'm accompanying myself or someone else, and then I'll improvise solos while the chords play back. This is a fun way to use the looper, but it's also an amazing practice tool.

Now that I have this little looper permanently set up at home, I use it a lot. In practice sessions, I use it mainly as a super fast, easy way to record myself and listen to the playback. Have you ever heard a recording of yourself talking and thought, "That doesn't sound like me?" The same goes for playing an instrument. Your own perception of your sound as you play is usually quite different from the way it actually sounds.

I have recently begun using the looper to listen to my improvised solos. (I can't believe I haven't thought of this before.) Improvisation is such a fleeting thing. When I improvise, I rarely remember much about what I played 10 seconds ago, let alone an entire solo. Up until now, I would improvise to Band-in-a-Box tracks and congratulate myself when I played over the changes comfortably. I never thought too much about my style and delivery.

Say hello to my little friend.
Almost as good as a teacher.
With the looper, I can play through the chord changes once. After that, I can add layers to the loop, which enables me to record an improvised solo over the changes I just played. What an eye opener! In some respects, I was pleasantly surprised at what I heard. In general, I tend to play lines that are melodic and singable, which is exactly what I'm going for. Sometimes there are licks that surprise me. I'll hear the playback and think, "Wow! Did I play that?" On the other hand, my relative youth as a guitar player shows through, especially in my timing. When I'm navigating through tricky chord changes or I'm just not quite sure what to play next, I'll start playing ahead of the beat, as if I can't wait to get through some challenging measures. Being made aware of this tendency, I'll take another crack and the solo, and 9 times out of 10, I'll sound more comfortable the second time. It'll be easy to forget to play more deliberately in performance situations, because there are other things that demand your attention, but the more I focus on improvising with a more relaxed feel at home, the more it will become a habit in the real world.

If you own a looper, I highly recommend using it as a practice tool. If you sing or play an acoustic instrument, you can record with a voice memo app on a smartphone or with an inexpensive digital recorder. After the initial shock of really hearing yourself for the first time, you'll be amazed at how quickly you can improve your playing or singing. It's almost as good as having a teacher in the room. In some ways, it may be better, because you can hear for yourself what needs to be fixed.

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