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, 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.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Tips for Memorizing Music

When I was a classical trombone player, I rarely memorized the music that I played. Much of it was orchestra or band music, but I even used music when I played solo recitals. Now that I'm a jazz musician, I memorize music all the time. I'm constantly working to memorize Godfrey and Guy's repertoire as well as my own. When I was a trombone player, I was in awe of those who performed from memory. Now, I realize that it's nothing to fear. You just have to work on it as you would any other skill. The good news is that, the more often you memorize, the easier it gets.

Here are some tips I've picked up along the way that may help you memorize your music.

  1. Memorize frequently. Even if there is no immediate need, spend some time each day memorizing something. If you're a jazz musician like me, you can memorize the melody or chords of a standard. If you are a classical musician, try memorizing an etude or a section of a solo. The more often you memorize, the easier it gets.
  2. Sing. If you are learning a tune from the Great American Songbook, sing the melody. If you are memorizing an instrumental, or if you are memorizing a classical piece, sing it anyway. It'll help cement the melody in your head, and you may find that you play more musically.
  3. Learn the words. Even if you never plan to sing the song in public, learning the words is another great way to keep the new song in your head. You may also find that the music takes on new life and meaning when you learn the words, and it will help you to be a more sensitive accompanist.
  4. Find patterns and and forms; analyze. The more deeply you understand the music, the easier it will be to remember. Finding patterns in the music will speed up the process of memorization. When I first began memorizing chords to songs, I memorized a chord at a time, which was tedious. Later, I realized that the chords for jazz standards often follow similar patterns. It's much easier to recognize a typical 1-6-2-5 pattern than it is to memorize C6, Am7, Dm7, G7. 
  5. Practice away from your instrument. Are your chops tired? Fingers aching? Sing the music in the car. Run through the music in your head while you're going to sleep. Visualize. Imagine the feel of the instrument, the fingerings (or slide positions) you'll use, etc.
  6. Memorize a little at a time. It can be daunting to memorize a big piece of music. But you don't chop a big tree down with one swing of the ax. You chop away, one swing at a time. Start with eight measures. If that's the most you can memorize in that practice session, that's fine. It's eight measures more than you had memorized before you started. Build on that.
  7. But still play all the way through. Even while you are memorizing a little at a time, still practice the rest of the music. By the time you've memorized most of the music, you may find that the last section is nearly memorized from sheer repetition.
  8. Put it away and come back to it. My main reason for memorizing is to be able to perform my repertoire without the printed music. When you perform, you need to get it right the first time. There can be only one "first" time you play a piece of music on a particular day, but I've found that the next best thing is to go away from that music and come back later. After I've memorized a song, I will often play that song and then put it away, even if there are some mistakes I want to fix. I'll practice a few other things and then go back to the song again, keeping in mind places my memory may have blanked the first time. I'll just play it once and then repeat the process: practice something else and then come back for another run through of my memory song.
  9. Constant review. Once I've memorized a song, I don't take it for granted. All of my repertoire needs constant review. Fortunately, I play a few weekly gigs in which I have a chance to cycle through my repertoire, but to me, that isn't enough. Part of my daily practice involves playing through my repertoire. I have an alphabetical list that keeps growing longer as I continue to memorize. I'll play through 10-15 songs a day from my memory list, just to keep everything under my fingers and in my head.
If you make a practice of memorizing your music, I'm sure you have some ideas of your own. If you have any tips for memorization, feel free to add then in the comments section below.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Five Stages of Jazz Guitar Arranging

Writing arrangements for solo jazz guitar is a special joy of mine. Some of my arrangements are purely instrumentals, while most of them are written as solo choruses to vocal arrangements for myself or for Godfrey and Guy. Arranging for solo guitar is challenging and rewarding. I always learn something in the process. These are my five stages of jazz guitar arranging:

  1. Glee – I like a song so much that I can't wait to arrange it for solo guitar. Or Lori, my music partner, likes a song so much that I am required to write an arrangement.
  2. Despair – After sitting down with the new song and trying different approaches, I realize this is harder than I thought it would be. In fact, I can't think of a way to make it work. If it's my own song, I might find it difficult to find chord forms that will allow me to highlight the melody. If it's a Godfrey and Guy song for Lori, it's a sure bet that she sings it in a key that is too high or too low for the guitar, forcing me to get creative with octave displacement.
  3. Hope – After fiddling with the song for a couple days, or even a week, I figure out a good way to play a phrase. If I've figured out how I can play one phrase, I know I can write the rest.
  4. Determination – After a week, or possibly a month, I've written the entire arrangement. The end is in sight. Now I have to learn how to play what I wrote. This can take a while. Sometimes I can play my arrangement right away, and sometimes I need to spend a lot of time playing it in super slow motion before working it up to speed.
  5. Pride – Finally, I can play my new creation at a gig – usually a background gig where people are more worried about getting refills than whether or not I'm debuting a shiny new song. That doesn't matter to me, though. I mostly care that I took the time to write a new arrangement for a song that I like, and that now I have a new song in my repertoire.