Leo Kottke's California Dunk Tank

Dunk tank

I'm not sure why it's called a "dunk tank" but I suppose it's better than a drunk tank.  Nonetheless, fans of Leo Kottke will be excited to learn that they can spend 5 days this summer learning from the master along with Steve Berlin, David Hildago and Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos.  The event takes place August 4-8 in Cambria  on the California coast.

Looks like a lot of fun and a pretty nice place to hang out.  If you're looking to improve your acoustic guitar chops, this will be a truly memorable vacation.

Studley Guitar Improvisation


Guitarist Greg Studley, who plays with the Pink Floyd Tribute band House of Floyd, has published a great new book called "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising with Knowledge."  Although the title is a bit of a mouthful, it's a good book for any player who is looking to go beyond the usual learned riffs to develop a more dynamic style to improvisation.  

Studley's approach is a thoughtful one and it's well-suited to anyone who has got stuck in the "Pentatonic rut" of playing same-sounding solos over every song using just one or two Pentatonic scale shapes.  Studley has developed a consistent structure and naming approach to make it much easier to learn everything you need to develop interesting and melodic solos.  He also ensures that your solos match the underlying chord changes and not just the oveall key of the song.  This enables you to build on the natural tension that happens during chord changes to make things flow better with the overall song.

Studley provides a "three step method" and a series of exercises that focus on getting familiar with root notes, then the scales before you dive into the uncharted territories of improvisation.  This structure ensures that you learn where to place your hands and you know what scale you're working from at all times and don't end up somewhere you don't want to be.  Through the course of the book, the techniques get increasingly sophiticated, incorporating arpeggios, bends, slides, hammer-ons, triplets, vibrato, syncopated rhythms and more.

Here's a video that demonstrates some of Studley's techniques for mixing two different pentatonic scales:

The book weighs in at over 200 pages, so you get a lot more detail with exercises for each chapter. And you can practice along to the backing tracks which can be downloaded from Studley's web site.  

And in related news, The House of Floyd will be touring Northern California beginning March through April, so if you're anywhere in the vicinity, be sure to check them out.  They've really honed their chops over the years, in no small part to Studley's great guitar playing.

iReal Pro Updated for Mac, iOS, Android

IPad guitar chords

Technimo has updated their awardwinning iRealb musical accompaniment application and re-christened it as iReal Pro.  The new version is available immediately for Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android.  iRealPro remains easy to use but adds several new capabilities including:

  • Customizable click tracks
  • Built-in chord diagrams for guitar
  • Easier song creation and editing
  • More custom mixing capabilities
  • AudioBus support for iOS 

AudiBus capability makes it possible to use iReal Pro in conjunction with other music apps on your iPhone or iPad, for example, combining iReal Pro with guitar audio from GarageBand, AmpliTube or AmpKit.

iReal Pro has more than 30 different accompaniment styles to chose from (Rock, Soul, Pop, Ballad, Bossa Nova, Funk Rock, Swing, Latin, Blues, Shuffle etc.) enabling a broad repertoire.  You can customize the accompaniment by changing not only the style, but the tempo, the key and the bass and piano instrumentation.  Also worth noting is there are hundreds of songs available on the forums including the typical Jazz standards, Blues, Beatles, Grateful Dead, Pop, Rock and more.  So even if you're more comfortable playing songs than creating them, there's a ton of material to tap into.  Take a look at the video below to get a feel for iReal Pro on the iPhone.

If I have one criticism of iReal Pro it's that it is very jazz oriented.  So even the rock and blues songs  inevitably sound like a lounge lizard jazz combo who wouldn't know how to rock if they were playing AC/DC.  I'm not sure what the best solution to this is.  Maybe some of the songs are using older styles, or maybe there's a need for more styles and rock instrumentation.  Hopefully this is something that iReal Pro can continue to improve.

Overall, iReal Pro continues to get better and better with every release.  It's a versatile tool for the practicing musician.  iRealPro is just $7.99 for iPad and iPhone via iTunes and $19.99 for the Mac.  Best of all, this is a free upgrade for all existing iRealb users.

Elmo Karjalainen's Brilliant Backing Tracks


I'm always on the lookout for good backing tracks.  Even if you have a band to play with, it's hard to get everyone together when you need to.  And you've still got stuff to work on between rehearsals and gigs.  I find that having some backing tracks makes it a whole lot more interesting to practice.  To keep it fresh, you gotta have some new takes on things. 

That's why I was so impressed with Elmo JK's backing tracks.  He's a blues/rock shredder from Finland and has created a number of impressive tracks.  They're way beyond your typical I-IV-V blues shuffle.  There's stuff in the style of Jeff Beck, Gary Moore, The Who, Joe Satriani, Jim Hendrix and more.  Check out the videos on youtube to see get some ideas.

 He's also recorded a great album called "Unintelligent Designs" and some extra tracks from that session called "Unintelligent Leftovers" (which sounds like what I had for dinner last night).  These are occasionally on sale, so definitely worth signing up for his email list.  That'll also get you a couple of free songs from the album.

I'm hoping he gets out on an international tour, but in the meantime, feel free to check out what he's got.

Stu Hamm at Guitar Workshop Plus

Stu hamm

Stu Hamm was another of the guest artists who appeared at Guitar Workshop Plus in BC this summer.  Hamm is a legendary bass player, famous for his own works as well as for playing with some of the greatest guitar players in the world including Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Frank Gambale, Michael Schenker and others.  He helped create and popularize many new techniques in bass playing that enabled the bass to be more than just an instrument of accompaniment.

It was great to have him come out to Guitar Workshop Plus where he talked about his development as a bass player, played an impressive set (solo and with the workshop faculty) playing original songs as well as fantastic covers of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Going to California" among others.  He also spent several hours with the bass students.

Here's Hamm playing Vince Guaraldi's "Linus & Lucy" (on request) on bass:

Gary Hoey at Guitar Workshop Plus

Gary Hoey - Squamish

Surf shredder guitar legend Gary Hoey was a featured artist this year at the Vancouver session of Guitar Workshop Plus.  He taught a session today and also played a show tonight featuring some classic blues songs such as "Going Down," "The Thrill is Gone," "Further On Up The Road" and others.  Hoey is not only a superb shredder, but he's a tremendous performer and a very nice guy.  He talked about how he learned guitar as a teenager, the ups and downs of his career, some of his musical influences and more.   Then for his final song, he brought out more than a dozen students in succession to jam with him on stage to "Redhouse."  The video clip below features teenager Matteo Kennedy of the band Abstract, from Comox Valley, BC.  

I've posted a few more videos from the show:

Free Berklee Songwriting Class

My brother was pestering me about taking some online courses over at Coursera.  They have classes through major universities including Berklee College of Music, which sounded interesting.  So I signed up for a songwriting course.  It's a six week course which includes online videos, quizzes and assignments.  I've written a few songs over the years, but never really put much effort or thought into it.  So why not give it a shot?

PattisonPattison toured with an obscure band called featherrain in the 70sand began teaching at Berklee shortly thereafter.  He seems like a genuine guy, with good ideas about song structure and storytelling and has written a number of popular books on the subject.   Pattison has also worked with a wide range of many pro musicians and producers including John Mayer and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith.  Plus he has a cool leather jacket. 

The course had over 65,000 participants the first time around and the latest edition has just started July 19.  So there's still time to get in on the action.  Best of all, the course is FREE!  There are also free courses on Jazz Improvisation and Music Production.

I'm not sure I understand Coursera's business model, but I'm not going to argue with a free course from Berklee.

From Guitar to Bass


I've never been a guy with a lot of natural rhythm; it's always been something I've struggled with.  Unfortunately, both bass players I play with have left their respective bands --one due to, ah, creative differences, and the other has gone back to his home of Australia.  So I decided to throw my hand in and attempt to learn to play bass.  I figured it would be good for me as a way to improve my rhythm.  And for some of the rock and blues songs we've been playing ("Come together", "Day Tripper", "Sunshine of your Love", "Killing Floor", "Early in the Morning") the bass line is pretty much the same as one of the guitar parts.  So how hard can it be, right?  I mean, it's only got four strings!

So I picked up a couple of used short scale basses and Roland cube amps on Craigslist and GuitarCenter.  One bass and amp are kept where I rehearse with my guitar buddy Rob, so I don't have to schlep gear every time we play, and the other set is at home.  

  • Jay Turser Violin Bass ($150 w/case) 
    A Hofner "Beatle bass" clone with a 30" scale that I picked up in white as seen in the photo above.  I've never seen another Beatle Bass in white, so I'm pretty chuffed about this.  
  • Ibanez Mikro Bass ($100)
    A really short 28" scale bass, also in white
  • Roland Cube 20XL Bass ($150)
    A solid practice amp, with built-in amp emulation and loud enough you can play with a drummer 
  • Roland Cube 100 Bass ($200)
    This is a discontinued model, loud enough to play a gig, but still only 35 lbs.  Lots of built-in effects so you can go from smooth Motown sound to Stranglers growl.  At $200 this was a steal.

I decided to go with a short scale bass which would be easier to transition from guitar.  It's still a bit of a stretch, but not too bad.  That makes it a different sound than the classic rock Fender P-Bass, but I figure with the effects and amp emulation, I can boost the low-end if I really need to.  For guitar players interested in picking up bass, a short scale bass makes a pretty easy transition.  The Ibanez Mikro is about the same size as a Fender Strat, so it fits nicely in the trunk of my convertible.  Alas, the Beatle Bass has to ride in the passenger seat.

I'm not giving up on guitar, but I'm going to see what I can do to learn some proper bass skills. Heaven knows you always seem to have more guitar players than bass players, so I figure it's a good skill to have.  It's certainly different from guitar.  But it's a cool feeling when you get a groove going with the drummer.  And so far, no pressure to do a bass solo.  

Any other bass players coming from guitar who want to provide advice?  Let me know in the comments below.  And if anyone has another short scale bass (Ibanez ARTB100, Eastwood, Gibson EB0 etc) in white they'd like to sell, I'm all ears.  

iReal b for iPad and Mac


A buddy of mine Robert introduced me to a very cool application with the somewhat awkward name iReal b.  The name's not too important, but what iReal b provides is a fakebook for tons of Jazz, blues and pop songs.  Unlike other fakebooks out there, iReal b lets you add more and more songs including hundreds from the iReal b forums or even create your own.

You can set up the charts for a song by setting the tempo, the chords for the verse & chorus, the breaks etc.  Then iReal b will play the song for you.  You can also easily transpose the song to different keys, slow it down, speed it up, loop sections etc.  This makes it great for practicing songs or sharing arrangements with others in your band.  You can also view different chord inversions and add on different style packs.

iReal b is a relatively young operation and so the application doesn't include all of the capabilities of older applications like Band-in-a-Box.  On the other hand, iReal b is a lot cheaper and it's available for iPad, iPhone and Android as well as the Mac.  I was also pleased to see the iReal b folks add new songs based on requests from customers, including 50 Blues standards with songs by Albert King, BB King, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters,  Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton and others.

While the sound of the songs is not perfect (they sound a bit too canned for my taste), they are a good starting point.  iReal b is a good deal at the Mac app store for $19.99 and it's practically a steal for the iPad and iPhone or Android at only $7.99.

Guitar Player's Top 40 Licks App


Guitar Player magazine's Top 40 licks app for iPad is now on sale for only $1.99 compared to the regular price of $9.99.  This app was actually built by TrueFire the company that has delivered a slew of "50 licks" iPad apps for Blues, Rock, Jazz etc.  Think of this as a "greatest hits" collection of some of the best licks from different genres and styles.  There's video, backing tracks, tabs and some added classic articles and interviews right out of the pages of Guitar Player magazine's extensive archives.  The top 40 licks includes those in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dave Gilmour, Jimmy Page, BB King, Jimmi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and more. 

If you haven't tried TrueFire, this is a great way to test it out cheap and see just how good their applications are.  If you like it, pick up some of the others.  If not, it's less than the price of a cup of coffee.  Honestly, what are you waiting for? 

NGW Alternatives


National Guitar Workshop (NGW) has unfortunately filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy canceling the summer's workshops.  This is quite unfortunate, especially for students like myself who have prepaid and made non-refundable travel arrangements. And who knows whether there will be refunds forthcoming or not.

For those already committed to travel and seeking alternative arrangements, I know of at least two events that are being scheduled for Austin and DC area.

  • Ted Hall of Austin Guitar School (and former NGW instructor) is going to hold a blues camp the week of July 15-20 for experienced players for only $450.  If you were planning on being in Austin for NGW and play guitar, bass or drums and want to focus on the blues, I encourage you to get in touch with Austin Guitar School ASAP to find out more.  Ted is an awesome instructor and I'm sure it will be a lot of fun.  He's also investigating playing out at a couple of local blues Jams.  Contact Austin Guitar School via email austinguitarschool@gmail.com, web site or phone 512.442.2880.
  • Pat and Michael Kaunitz are working with former NGW instructor Tobias Hurwitz and James Hogan for a 6 day/5 night event falling between July 25-30 in the West Virginia Mountains.   They have a huge cabin booked that sits atop a mountain to accomodate 12 students (first come first served), two instructors, a cook, and 2 dogs.  Contact pat@kaunitz.com for more details.  

Please help spread the word on these events.  Or if you know of other events that might coincide with NGW's previously scheduled classes, please add to the comments below.

In case you have any doubt about Ted Hall's chops or instructional abilities, here's a video of him ripping it up on Black Magic Woman from NGW Austin last year.

Playing with Others

If you want to improve your guitar playing there's no magical device, or instrument or book or course that will suddenly make it all happen.  Bu there are two sure fire things that will accelerate your development:

  1. Play every day
  2. Play with others

I've written previously about the notion of guitar mastery and how to get more time to play every day.  For the last three years, I've played guitar about 360 out of 365 days a year.  Sometimes it's 15 minutes at the end of a very long day.  On occasion its in an airport or hotel with a travel guitar.  But it's not when I feel like it or when I have time; it's an every day commitment.  That's helped me get a lot of the basics down.  Today I'll focus on the importance of playing with others.  

Two years I started playing guitar with a blues workshop at Red House studios in Walnut Creek.  Every Monday we get together and work on blues songs.  We've had some people come and go from the workshop, we've split up into two different bands, we've tackled classic blues as well as some rock songs that really have nothing to do with the blues (mostly my fault).  But the important thing is we play together as a band.  There's a drummer, a bass player and usually more guitars than we actually need.  And we don't just jam or fool around; we work on songs that we'll perform live in front of an audience.

I've also been getting together every few fridays with my buddy Rob for the last 10 months and occasionally we've been lucky enough to have Chorus Dave join us on bass as part of the Electric Buddha Blues Band.  Rumor has it in 2012 we'll get a drummer.

There's something important that happens when you play with others.  It forces you to improve in ways that are more difficult, perhaps even impossible, on your own.  You can't really develop the skill of listening to others by playing by yourself.  With the right coaching from fellow musicians you learn how to not overcrowd others, how to leave quiet stretches, how to bring down the dynamics and how to deal gracefully when things go wrong.  

If you want to really improve your playing, I encourage you to find a couple of like-minded wannabe musicians and just get going.  As long as someone can hold down the beat, you're guaranteed to improve.  And if you're very fortunate, you'll actually create music and friendships along the way.

Below is a video of me, Rob and Chorus Dave doing an Albert King song "I'll Play The Blues For You."