July 22, 2011

Free For All Friday, July 22, 2011

by jim — Categories: Free For All FridayLeave a comment

Food Fight!

Hey, kids! Welcome to Free For All Friday, where we throw random stuff at the wall to see what sticks. It’s like a food fight, if the food consisted of deep-fried nuggets of musical goodness. Sounds yummy! (get it?)

Today’s agenda includes:

1 – Why guitarists are happy to be musical illiterates
2 – The second-greatest and most underrated group in pop music history
3 – Great vocabulary builders for the budding jazz guitarist

Let’s get this party started!

Reading Sucks. Signed, Any Random Guitarist.

Beavis Butthead

Why, oh why, is the average guitarist content with being musically illiterate?

This is an oft-posed question among guitar teachers and in guitar magazines, and for good reason. Guitarists have a reputation not only for being bad note readers, but as musicians who don’t even care to learn how to read. After all, we’ve got TAB!

Of course, TAB (short for tablature) is a legit way to communicate music for stringed instrument players, but it doesn’t help you communicate with any other musicians. And any cool playing opportunities, such as Guitar 1 in the pit band for your community production of “Hairspray”, will require actual, honest-to-goodness reading. I’ve even encountered some guitarists who could play a little bit but could not tell you the names of the chords they were playing! Ugh.

When I take on a new student, we usually wind up talking about reading music, and this is my message: You don’t have to read to be a good guitarist, but it sure does help. After all, knowledge is power, and I’m all about the musical empowerment! You’ll be able to make sense out of ANY music put in front of you, instead of getting that sheepish look on your face that says, “Yeah, I know I’m supposed to be a musician, but I don’t have the first clue what to do with this.” Not very powerful, Ace.

If you’re my guitar student, I won’t force you to read if it doesn’t meet your goals, but, at minimum, you must learn to read rhythms. TAB is fine for giving you information on what notes to play and where, but TAB doesn’t give you any idea as to the rhythm and timing. Heck, just learning to follow a simple strum pattern requires reading basic rhythms.

Usually guitarists shy away from reading because of 1) the feeling that they won’t understand it, and/or 2) the fact that it’ll take some effort, and/or 3) the availability of TAB. And everyone’s goals are not the same. Some folks are content to just learn their few chords and strums, while others want to rule the guitar world. And most cats fall somewhere in between. So you don’t have to read…but I wish you would just man up and do it anyway.

Here’s a moderately interesting blog about guitarists and why they should or shouldn’t read standard musical notation. The real fun, though, is in the comment section! Holy crap, some people are having a field day with this writer! Very interesting. So what is your take on the whole reading music thing?

To Read or Not To Read? by james McVay

The Bee Gees Are The Second Greatest Pop Band in the History of Music

Saturday Night Fever

After The Beatles, naturally. And don’t give me any of that, “What about the Beach Boys?” stuff, either. I’ve heard the Beach Boys and I love their songs, but they simply can’t hang with the Brothers Gibb in any way, shape or form. Except vocal harmonies. And surfing. I’ll give ’em those.

Now, admittedly, I have a major Bee Gees bias workin’ here. My mom loved the Bee Gees, so I grew up listening to their early stuff, like “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”, “Run To Me”, “i Started a Joke”, etc. Therefore it’s kind of in my blood. And I came of age as a music lover and budding musician – around 12-13 years old – when they absolutely blew up as the predominant sound on Top 40 radio. But the “soft rock” and “disco sucks” mentality was rampant among my peers. Therefore I publicly jammed to Kiss and Foreigner and Ted Nugent. Privately, however, I was getting my Bee Gees on in a major way.

Look, I like to rock as much as the next guy. And The Bee Gees have a reputation as soft rock balladeers. But if we can put away the silly macho posturing and the “I Hate Disco” t-shirt for a second, we stand to be amazed at some of the statistics regarding this band’s success.

Here’s a quick Wiki excerpt to get us going:

“It has been estimated that the Bee Gees’ career record sales total more than 220 million,[2] making them one of the best-selling music artists of all time. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997;[3] the presenter of the award to “Britain’s first family of harmony”[4] was Brian Wilson, historical leader of the Beach Boys, a “family act” also featuring three harmonizing brothers.[5] The Bee Gees’ Hall of Fame citation says “Only Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney have outsold the Bee Gees”.[4]

The Bee Gees are the statistical freaks of the pop music world. Prepare to have your mind blown even more…

– The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack sold in excess of 15 million units and stayed at Number 1 on the Billboard charts for 24 consecutive weeks.
– At one point in 1978, the Gibb brothers were responsible for writing and/or performing 9 of the songs in the Billboard Hot 100.
– In all, the Gibbs placed 13 singles onto the Hot 100 in 1978, with 12 making the Top 40.
– At least 2,500 artists have recorded their songs.
– Their most popular composition is “How Deep Is Your Love”, with 400 versions by other artists in existence.
– Their songs have been covered by artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Al Green, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Tom Jones, Nina Simone, John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Feist, Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Michael Bolton, Robert Smith (The Cure), Faith No More, The Flaming Lips and Destiny’s Child.
– The band’s music has been sampled by dozens of hip hop artists.

The Bee Gees have written numerous songs for other artists to record, but the following are some major hits penned by our boys: “I Just Want To Be Your Everything”, “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water”, “Don’t Throw It All Away (Our Love)”, “Shadow Dancing” and “An Everlasting Love” by Andy Gibb (all co-written by Andy and his brothers); “If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman; “Emotion” by Samantha Sang (famously covered by Destiny’s Child); “Guilty” and “Woman In Love” by Barbra Streisand; “Heartbreaker” by Dionne Warwick; “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton; “Grease” by Frankie Valli.

Just to be clear: As artist and/or songwriter, when you’ve got 9 songs in the Top 100 on THE SAME DAY…and when you’ve placed 12 songs in the Top 40 in THE SAME YEAR (1978)… then you are officially a badass. And you get a killer spoof by Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon:

Regardless of their commercial success and speaking as a lifelong musician – someone who plays instruments, writes songs, sings, and engineers/produces recordings – I think the Bee Gees are highly underrated from a purely musical perspective. Their songs are full of sophisticated chord changes, beautiful and unpredictable melodies, and absolutely groovy rhythm. So okay, their lyrics might not win any awards. But how about those vocals? Simply extraordinary.

If it wasn’t clear by now, it’s my personal crusade to convert the Bee Gees haters out there! My recommendations are the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Children of the World, Spirits Having Flown, or their tremendous live album, Here At Last…Bee Gees…Live. You can’t go wrong with any of them. For a cool compilation of all the hits plus their original demos of songs written for other artists, you’ve gotta check out Their Greatest Hits: The Record – excellent!

Come Get You Some Jazz Vocabulary!

Ted Greene

All up and coming jazzers are in need of vocabulary for their epic solo excursions. Since jazz is built on improvisation, we’re always on the lookout for new ideas. One of the classic books is Ted Greene’s “Jazz Guitar Single Note Soloing, Vol.1” (there’s a Volume 2, also), which contains a ginormous mountain of phrases for building your vocabulary. The only problem with the Ted Greene books, IMHO, is that they contain, well, a ginormous mountain of phrases for building your vocabulary.

Sometimes we just need a dozen or so phrases to work with right now, not 300. It can be overwhelming anyway, ’cause you’ve got major stuff, minor stuff, and dominant stuff to deal with, not to mention what to play over that augmented chord in measure 17…

Jazz Book

Enter one of my fave book series for jazzy learnin’: Essential Jazz Lines in the style of…

This series is published by Mel Bay and written by Corey Christiansen, and features lines ripe for the plucking (read: stealing) in the style of the greats, such as John Coltrane, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker and Bill Evans.

Geared toward the solid intermediate guitarist with a decent grasp of basic theory, each book takes you through the signature sounds of the featured artist – the scales, techniques, and concepts that defined their personal style – and then uses that information to build a variety of phrases for major, minor and dominant chords. It also provides short 2-5-1 phrases and long 2-5-1 phrases, which is extremely helpful. Add in some tunes and a playalong CD and you’ve got a great package for vocabulary building that doesn’t overwhelm; each book is around 50-60 pages, as opposed to Ted Greene’s uber-comprehensive 200-300 page monsters! They are also well-structured and easy to navigate.

If you are studying jazz in any sort of serious way, or if you’re a rocker who is investigating the jazz language for new inspiration, the Essential Jazz Lines series would be a great addition to your personal library. If you’re a little more hardcore and in search of a veritable library of ideas, want some classic books of the genre, and don’t mind a bit of a dry approach, go with the Ted Greene also. As a bonus, you’ll get the cover pic of Ted in his awesome beige leisure suit and open-collared silk shirt!

Until next Friday, boys and girls!

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Jim Bowley is a professional guitarist, teacher and blogger. A native of Baltimore, he has over 30 years of playing experience and an advanced degree in Music Education from Towson University. Jim lives in Bel Air, MD where he maintains a thriving private lesson studio and performs with his band, Remains of Radio.

© 2012 Jim Bowley All rights reserved.
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