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February 2009
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April 2009

Guitar Mastery


A while back I read an article on Robert Renman's terrific Dolphinstreet guitar web site called "Play Like a Pro in No Time."  I know Robert's no BS artist; he's a serious guitar player, a web developer and a dedicated marathon runner.  He's a guy who's serious about his craft.  So naturally, there is no short cut to learning guitar; it takes hard work and discipline.  Robert mentioned a book called "Mastery: The Keys to Success & Long Term Fulfillment" written by George Leonard in 1992.  Since I was interested in learning about learning, I decided to pick up a copy on Amazon.

The book's central question is: what is it that sets apart mere dabblers from those who are truly masters, whether in sports, business or the arts?  After all, if you could unlock the answer, then you could develop a blueprint for improving performance.  And that's exactly what Leonard set out to do.

While the book could be dismissed as "self help" fluff, Leonard took an in-depth look at how people learn and develop skills. The results are fascinating and at-odds with the normal "quick fix" approach that is prevalent today, whether in books like "Learn Java in a Weekend," online guitar lessons or fad diets.

Leonard describes the stages people go through in learning and what sets apart the masters from the hackers, the dabblers and the obsessives.  A key take away is that learning (or more aptly, accomplishment) is based on achieving a series of plateaus, each of which may have the occasional setback.  With dedicated practice (and hard work) you occasionally break through to a new level, which is yet another plateau. Mastery is based on loving the practice of what you're doing and accepting that there will be long plateaus, occasional setbacks and perhaps rare breakthroughs.

As I was reading the book I was thinking back to my experience as a marathon runner. If you've ever run or even witnessed a marathon, you may be surprised to see the variety of runners shapes, sizes and ages at the finish.  But they all have perseverence and a love of running.  Even though I managed to run quite a few marathons, I never thought of myself as having any particular natural talent or ability.  But if you do enough running, and challenge yourself occasionally, you will become quite good at it.

I also hit my share of plateaus over the years.  For a while it seemed impossible to break a marathon time of 3:30 due to repeated injuries.  But I changed my training, pushed harder and ultimately was able to break through, qualifying for and running Boston Marathon a couple of years ago. While it took a lot of time commitment for early morning runs, speed work outs, and weekend long runs, the running itself was never a hardship. I loved going out and running 15 or 20 miles; for me it was meditative.

Last January, I decided to apply this "brute force" marathon approach to learning guitar, where I've been a "hacker" for 20+ years, never really pushing myelf and never breaking out beyond the basics.  So I decided I would play every day --even if it was just 15 minutes of scales.  I also realized I needed to put some structure in my learning and try new things.

After reading Leonard's book, I realize this "brute force" approach is more appropriate than I thought.  As long as you love the practice and stay committed to learning and improving, you will develop mastery.  In guitar, guys like Michael Angelo Batio, Sonny Landreth, and Kirk Hammett, may have had some innate abilities early on, but they sure as heck loved what they were doing, put in the long hours to hone their skills and had the humility and wisdom to never stop learning.

Metal_method_box_2 As part of my curriculum, I also decided to get off my butt and buy some instructional DVDs.  I didn't want to get some superficial course with a bunch of infomercial phoney-baloney hype.  I wanted something that was proven, that would give me a mix of skills and knowledge so I could keep learning.  It's not about learning riffs, it's about developing a framework for continuous improvement. 

I decided to order Doug Marks' Metal Method course.  It's been around for 25 years, has an active online forum and Doug seems to be a patient instructor.  (I'm not a metal head, and the course is more about classic rock than hard core head-banger stuff.)  I'm not through the entire course yet, but it's helped give me a context for what I'm learning and how the pieces fit together.  And it's giving motivation to play more.  So far, so good!

Washburn's Riff Contest 2009


Washburn Guitars, producer of some of the finest electric guitars out there, is sponsoring a Riff Contest with some pretty cool prizes, including a custom WM 526 electric with smoking hot sustain. 

All you need to do is record a riff --no longer than 35 seconds-- upload it to YouTube, and then copy the URL and code into the form on the Riff Contest site.  Oh yeah, and be better than everyone else.  And you have to be over 18.  And you have to use a Washburn guitar.  While that could be a problem, you can go to any Washburn dealer and tell them that you want to rock out on their gear.  I'm sure they'll love that.  Especially by the twentieth take.

Check out some of the videos online and vote for your favorite.  Personally, I'd like to see a bit less metal in these entries, and a bit more classic rock, but that's just me.  Entries are due by June 20 but why wait?  Unless, you're like 19, with a birthday in June and still trying to find a local Washburn dealer.

I wonder, if Washburn players Paul Stanley and Joe Trohman from Fall Out Boy entered, who would win?  My money would be on Paul Stanley.  Plus he looks better in spandex. 

Also, for a, ah, cheekier contest, check out where you can win a complete guitar rig from Musican's Superstore and Metal Method lessons. 

Doug Marks' Economic Stimulus Plan for Guitarists


Doug Marks, a fixture of the rock world who has been selling his Metal Method rock guitar instruction courses for more than 25 years, has proposed his own "Economic Stimulus Plan" for guitarists by offering free shipping in North America.  Just enter the word "FreeShip" in the coupon field and order within the next seven days. 

You can get started with the Metal Method DVDs or related titles for under $20 and you can also put together your own bundle package and save an additional twenty percent.  If you're not quite ready to buy, I recommend that you register your email address to view samples of the lessons from The Vault.  You'll get motivational ideas and insights from Doug's newsletters.  You can also check out the Online Forum where you can ask questions about getting started, music, equipment, the courses or just about anything.  

If you're still hung up on the economic situation, remember, business is cyclical. Things will get better.  In fact, Metal Method first started during a terrible economic downturn as Doug writes:

The worst unemployment level of my entire life was actually in October of 1982. It didn't really phase me. I mean, when you have absolutely nothing what does high unemployment mean anyway? I had kicked around the Southeastern part of the U. S. for a few years playing in bands and didn't make enough money to pay income taxes. At the time I was giving guitar lessons in Denver, Colorado for $5 an hour which means I was basically unemployed. My wife was receiving unemployment benefits. Our lifestyle was beyond recession it was definitely depression. So, what's a guy to do when he's basically out of work, the unemployment rate is 10.9%, and the future looks bleak?

Start a business!
That's right. I decided that I was going to create a guitar lesson course for audio cassette. To do so I sold everything that I owned (a couple of guitars) to buy magazine ads. After purchasing the ads I decided it was time to get started creating the course! ...
About six months later the course was completed, we shipped to everybody that had been patient enough to wait, and I was in business.

As crazy as this sounds it worked. That was the birth of Metal Method.  

More than twenty five years later, Metal Method is still going strong as one of the best rock guitar courses out there.  The material has been updated, but the style and commitment you get from Doug Marks is burning just as brighly as ever.  And remember, good instruction is going to improve your playing a lot more than an expensive new guitar, amp or effects pedal. 


Beatles Rock Band - Too Little too Late?


While the folks over at MTV have recently announced the launch date of their newest Rock Band edition featuring The Beatles, some folks are already griping that this may be too little too late. Rumors about the game surfaced last October and it looks like the game won't be available until September 9, 2009.  While that's a long time from now, it's still in advance of the holiday buying season.  

Personally, I'm not sure that The Beatles music will really be a good fit for this type of interactive medium.  The Beatles were a huge impact on modern pop rock music, but I'm not sure how much appeal the beatles have to the traditional 12-25 year old gaming set.  Even Seargent Peppers is long past the "20 years ago today" date. 

Still there are enough longtime Beatle fans that may want to pick it up to introduce the music to their, ah, grandkids.  Lets see what the setlist includes.  Personally, I'd be happy to with songs like: Revolution, Paperback Writer, Back in the USSR and anything from Abbey Road.

But if rhythm video games like Guitar Hero and Rockband are going to stay relevent they're going to need to get a bit more hip to music.  Packages featuring Aerosmith, AC/DC and Metallica are a good start, but where's the Who at King Dome, Kiss at the Colliseum?  Where is the U2 of our generation? 

Omar Delarosa: Matisse & Carrots


Tooling around Orlando a few weeks ago, I happened to tune into a local college radio station WPRK from Rollins College in nearby Winter Park.  The signal was fading in and out, but the music I heard was good enough to stop me in my tracks.  In fact, I parked my car to listen to the rest of the song and find out who it was.  When the DJ came on, he announced the song as "Hang onto your Headshot" by Matisse and Carrots.  What?

This was the hippest song I've heard on the radio in ten years.  Maybe more.  I'm not saying it's necessarily the most rocking sound, but it was original and mesmerizing with great 60's style guitar and Ray Davies-inspired vocals.  Other than that, I don't even know how to properly describe it beyond thinking that if this was the latest Fireman disk from Paul McCartney, I would considered it to be vastly underrated.


It turns out Matisse and Carrots is the name of a solo music project by local Orlando musician Omar Delarosa, who has also recorded and performed in the bands Magnet Club and most recently Little Insects.

You can pick up Matisse and Carrots on Amazon for $9 or slightly more at iTunes.  You can also purchase two 4-song EPs of recent recordings for $3 each on the Omar Delarosa MySpace page.  A bargoon.   Why doesn't commercial radio play stuff this good?   Hopefully I'll get the CDs in the mail real soon now...

Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to see roots rocker Alejandro Escovedo perform an acoustic set in Santa Cruz.  It was an awesome show and you can see some video and photos I took from that event.   Many of the songs from that gig were from Escovedo's latest CD "Real Animal" which chronicles his 30 year musical career and upbringing listening to classic rock and punk music. You can hear the echoes of Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and the Stooges filtered through the lifetime of a seasoned rock musician.

There are rough-edged rockers like "Smoke," "Chelsea Hotel '78," and "Real As An Animal" as well as more mainstream songs like "Always a Friend," "Sister Lost Soul" and "Golden Bear."   Songs like "Chip n' Tony" and "Nuns Song" harken back to Escovedo's earlier bands Rank and File and The Nuns. 

The CD is also important coming after Escovedo's collapse and near death from Hepatitis-C in 2003.  He returned with the CD "The Boxing Mirror" in 2006 and now "Real Animal" an upbeat and pop-infused tribute to the musical experiences that shaped Escovedo.   This is one of the best albums I've heard in a long time.

Here's a clip from YouTube when Escovedo got up on stage to perform the song "Always a Friend" wtih Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band.

Nico Georis & Sarah McCoy at Brookdale Lodge

A couple of weeks ago  I went to see Kaki King play at the Brookdale Lodge out on Highway 9 in Santa Cruz county.  King was the headliner so I wasn't expecting much with the two opening acts, Nico Georis and Sarah McCoy.  But both put on tremendous performances.  The combination made for a great evening despite the late start and lack of heat.

Georis led a full band with a set of up-tempo freak folk Highway 1 music with a vocal style reminiscent of Donovan or Lou Reed on a better day.  Georis is primarily a keyboard player, but also played guitar on a couple of numbers which I caught on video

After some delay, Sarah McCoy took the stage with a series of blues-belting numbers playing piano and occasionally guitar.  She has a powerful vocal style that is authentic and moving.  She played mostly original songs from her CD "Songs from Under the Bridge" including the extremely clever "Use Caution" and finished the set with a cover of "Mad World" that was riveting.

Both bands are from the bay area, and if you have the chance to see them live, you will enjoy it immensely.  Hopefully the promoter Folk Yeah will get some more gigs for these artists in the coming months.  A heated venue would be nice also.