Hi everyone! To try and get something a bit more interactive started, I thought I’d post a few examples of sound musical counsel that I’ve had from teachers and mentors over the years, in the hope that others might have a few similar gems to share. There are times when someone just hits the nail right on the head and clarifies things for you in the most amazing way, and I’ve certainly been fortunate to be on the receiving end of things like this:
“Strong and wrong!” – Anyone who’s had the great privilege of studying with Pete Churchill in the UK will have heard this saying. I hope I understood Pete right; what I took from it was that it’s much better to make a mistake with conviction, than to play something that’s technically correct, but sounds apologetic. He was probably referring to teaching situations more than anything; of course, there are times in professional music making where it just has to be “strong and right”! I love the idea of being liberated from mistakes, though – fear doesn’t produce good improvisation!
“If you can’t work out some chords for “She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain”, then you’re missing the point.” – This was from one of my first guitar teachers, a wonderful player named Chris Walker. Amongst many other things, Chris showed me that theory and technique amount to nothing, if they don’t result in something musical. He taught me all the scales etc. but, at the same time, warned me not to put advanced concepts ahead of basic general musicianship.
“Learn all your scales in one place, and sort out triads all over the neck.” – a gem from Pete Sklaroff, who is rightly regarded as a living legend in my part of the world. Pete very quickly spotted that I was trying to play B# Demented with a flattened 14th, before I really knew where C Major was. Without crushing my enthusiasm, he gently pointed me in the right direction…
“A groove must be relentless, and it must be irresistable” – I heard a colleague of mine named Peter Fairclough say this to a drummer once; just as applicable to any other instrument of course.
“Time is the sh*t!” – this came from the legend that is Mike Stern, at one of two immensely inspiring workshops that I was fortunate to attend. The pithy epithet went down into LCoM legend, but this really opened my eyes and ears to some vital stuff. If you practice chord voicings, you get better at playing chords. If you practice time, you get better at everything…
“Work on your sound, the way a sax player would. It’s in your fingers!” – I once had the privilege of playing alongside the great British guitarist Jim Mullen, who came out with this marvellous piece of advice backstage. He’d just put the wisdom into practice by borrowing someone else’s amp at the last minute and then making it sound as if this was the perfect rig he’d been seeking out for years. To this day, I suspect that they could have handed him a ukelele and that same giant, singing tone would have resulted. Incredible. My erstwhile teacher and colleague Jez Franks is another one who can do this. “Why doesn’t my guitar sound that way when I play it?” was a sentiment that crossed my mind more than once during his lessons.
“There’s no such thing as the blues scale.” – Sorry? Say that again… My friend and colleague Joel Purnell dropped this into a conversation once, and it was a bit like being told that Santa Claus wasn’t real. But he was absolutely right, in the sense that the language of blues extends so far beyond five or six pitches. Nothing wrong with taking a concept like that to help us get started, but it’s dangerous to take these things too literally and cling on to them.
“That’s great – show me what you’re doing there…” – The amazing thing about this one is who said it, and to whom. The question was directed to an understandably nervous teenager (not me, I hasten to add) by none other than Jim Hall, who’d just finished a duet with the youngster at a jazz workshop I attended in about 1996. The master seemed endearingly uncomfortable with the whole idea of being Mr. Guitar Star, there to astonish everyone within earshot; indeed, he began by de-tuning completely, in the hope of getting something creative happening, amidst a forest of dictaphones and flash bulbs. The lesson was the best one he could possibly have given in the circumstances – that one of the all-time greats (who would have been well into his 60s then) was still inquisitive, humble, and totally open-minded in his approach to music. There was a concert later on, during which he generated astonishment by the bucketload, needless to add.
So there are a few that stopped me in my tracks – how about the rest of you? I’d love to hear some more along these lines; even if they contradict the ones I’ve posted. After all, “he who hesitates is lost” and yet “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”!
Finally, I’ve obviously got a few trusty old canards of my own after twelve years of music teaching so, whilst I don’t put myself in the same category as the sages listed above, I’ll leave you with one of mine that’s been used a fair few times in combat:
“Guilt is not a motivator.” – If you’re practicing because you feel you ought to, something is seriously wrong. Wes Montgomery did two day jobs, and picked up his guitar at the end of all that because he couldn’t keep away from it. Conscience might have got him into the factory a few times, but I very much doubt he needed it to help him open his guitar case…
Cheers for now, JT