American Guitar Institute Has Closed
For a number of years this was the American Guitar Institute website.
Content is from the site's 2003 - 2010 archived pages.
Take a nostalgic look back...
Welcome to the American Guitar Institute
Your Best Source for Guitar, Bass and Drum Lessons in the Memphis Area!
Thank you for visiting the American Guitar Institute website. The American Guitar Institute is a private teaching facility located in Bartlett, TN. We are currently offering private lessons for the guitar, bass and drums. Our teaching facility is located at 7990 Highway 64, at the intersection of Hwy 64 and Germantown Parkway.
Whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced musician, there is something here for you. For beginner players, we can guide you through the entire learning process and take you as far as you want to go. Whether you want to be able to teach yourself some of your favorite songs, write your own songs, or become a working professional in the industry, we can take you from knowing nothing at all, to knowing everything you've ever wanted to know, and more. We give you the confidence that you are learning everything you need to know in an easy to understand way, and that you will learn everything you need to know in an effective order.If you are an intermediate player, we can help you fill in all of those missing pieces, help you feel more confident in the knowledge and skill you already have and help you to advance to the next level of playing. And for advanced players, we can help refine your advanced techniques or theories you may be struggling with and give you some new ideas if you are feeling stale. For the self taught, we can go back and fill in the blanks that most self taught players end up with, giving you the names to the concepts you may have already picked up, make sure that your technique has developed properly, and then help you progress further. And for those of you who have had a bad experience with a previous music instructor, let us reassure you that not all of us are bad and just taking your money. We'll get you or your child back on track.
Our teaching method is very straightforward. First and foremost we do not just blatantly teach songs and nothing else. The foundation of our lessons is teaching the student how to learn songs for themselves, which means we don't have to teach songs, our students are equipped to learn songs themselves. We guide them through the chords, scales, and techniques that they will need to learn songs, develop reading and analyzation skills required to learn the even the most complicated songs easily, the best resources to find the music for songs on their own, and the tools to make sure the songs that they learn are accurate, and if not, how to fix them. And when we do work on songs in the lesson, it is to teach specific things, such as a new technique, understanding chord progressions, solos, song structure or composition, analyzation and memorization, and these songs are chosen most often by the student and not the teacher. We work on advancing the students knowledge of music and technique so that eventually even the hardest songs become easy. Through our approach to learning the instrument and how to play songs, the student also becomes naturally equipped to start writing their own songs. And that's only the beginning.
Our teaching method moves with the student. Lessons are custom tailored to the individual. We can spend as much or as little time as necessary on any given topic, and work on things in the order that best fits the goals and capabilities of any given student. Everyone is different, and everyone is human. That's what makes music great, it is all different, but on a fundamental level it is all the same, it comes from the same place and has the same foundation. This is something that has developed our method into what it is today in two major ways. First, if there is a style of music that you hate, we won't work on it, because everyone is different. Second, as your lessons progress and you completely change styles that you like, for example if you loved blues but now you want to play metal, no problem. Nothing you learned so far is a waste because fundamentally all music is the same, the content doesn't change, just the context.
Over the years the American Guitar Institute has been blessed with a wide variety of students that have all gone off to find their own place in music. And regardless of that place we are proud of them all. Most of them have obtained the skills to learn their favorite songs and play them for and with family and friends. Some of them have had higher goals, and we were honored to help them obtain those goals, from being on Mtv and being played on the radio, going to music school, obtaining recording contracts, gigging in Memphis, across the country and around the world, writing and producing their own albums, and becoming teachers themselves. Regardless of your goals, we can help you get there. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes hard, but it's always fun and always rewarding.
I'd like to thank all of the students that have made the American Guitar Institute what it is, those that have been, those that are and those that will be. It's always interesting and always fun. So for all of you that are about to join us, on behalf of the American Guitar Institute staff and students, welcome to our family.
We hope you enjoy our site and we look forward to hearing from you when you are ready to sign up for lessons.
My dream was to be a session player and I played in many bands and recorded with several. But I felt that I was stuck in a rut where I never felt I was reaching my real potential. In order to support my music, I was working a dead end job for a cleaning supply service doing stuff like shipping wholesale garbage bags and confirming trash bags in stock for customers who treated me like crap. I realize that janitorial supplies may not be glamorous, but it really was paying my rent, and I don't want to put down an employer who was actually my friend. Connecting to the pros at the institute changed my life, my attitude, and the direction of my music in a way that helped me improve in ways I could not have done on my own. They are professional musicians who understand how to get the best out of you. I consistently followed all the exercises and actually had fun - which I think is the key to making fast progress. All the drills were enjoyable and while they tell you to make sure you take breaks from practice, I felt no need to - I was loving it all. I'm now an in demand session cat who is actually turning down work! I'm also working on my own album and the great thing about guitar playing is that it leads very easily into songwriting. Check these guys out!
Recent 2003 Updates
10.21.2003 Fixed more stuff, and added From Our Students to Columns.
10.20.2003 Added Features side bar, Krystel's Favorite Places, and updated the student policy and links.
10.19.2003 Finally had some time to sit down and make some sorely needed corrections. Also, added some friends to the link section.
10.07.2003 Another Shawn update.
9.30.2003 More updates for Shawn.
9.27.2003 Today, I had to do something I have feared for a while now. In Memory of our good friend Shawn Lane
9.20.2003 It's been about two and a half years since I did the last update on the old site. Strange to think that the date on my last update was actually 12.31.2000! It's been great to hear from all of you that you want the site back up, even after all of this time. I think more people have asked me about the site in the last few months than the entire time it was up before! Everyone was asking about it, even Shawn!!! (What an ego stroke that was!) Anyway, if y'all wouldn't have been hounding Jimmy and I so much recently I probably wouldn't have put a new site up, so this one's for you guys! I hope you enjoy it :)
Getting the Most Out of Your Practice
originally written on 2-07-99 for guitarnoise.com
I have had a lot of people come to me and say that they have been practicing "like twelve hours a day" and they just are not getting anywhere. I know almost every guitarist at some point has this problem. Generally speaking that means that you are noodling around for eleven and a half hours and practicing maybe for thirty minutes. There is a big difference between practicing and noodling. Practicing is learning new material and refining previously studied material. Noodling is when you play that thing, you know that thing you always play when you don't know what else to do, oh come on that annoying and dissatisfying thing, we are all guilty of it.
The first thing you should work with is a metronome. Most guitarists hate them but trust me, they help. This is your constant drummer that never makes mistakes. If you want to get the most out of playing something, play it extremely slow with a metronome. You will find that if you play something slow it is actually harder than speeding through it. Get it perfect to where it sounds excellent slow. The speed will come on it's own. If you do it this way, when you do get speed behind it, you will have note seperation and tone that you never had before. You also learn it quicker and more thoroughly.
If you are learning a particular piece and you have trouble with a particular part instead of playing the whole piece over and over again, pick out the problem area and play that part slowly until you get it down. What you are doing is seperating this part which allows you to learn the whole piece in equal time. This way you are not mastering everything in that song but the problem spot. That sounds horrible , you get out of time and all choked up and it just does not fit like it should. When it comes to practice you need to break everything down into time frames. The human brain can only give you an attention span that lasts between two and five minutes max. Use a timer and set it to fifteen minute per each subject of study. Don't quit playing until the timer goes off. At that point stop playing and take a three minute break. This allows you to collect your thoughts and give your fingers and brain a little break.
Always take a day off from guitar every week. This will help freshen you up. Always remember to breathe when practicing or playing. A lot of people hold their breath when playing something difficult. When practicing try getting a visual image of what you will be playing. This is one of the most important tools of learning music. It is reffered to as visualization. When you are done practicing, always play something that you enjoy playing. This will keep your interest in doing the same thing the next day. Use the metronome and crosspick everything. You know that you are using the metronome correctly when you can't hear the beeps. This does not mean to turn up louder than the metronome, that would be useless.
Here is a good practice schedule that will get you were you want to be quicker than anything else. Time is of the essence, so jump on it.
|Warm up and technique||15 minutes|
|Scales and arpeggios||15 minutes|
|Chords and voicings||15 minutes|
|Sight reading||15 minutes|
|Rhythm and timing||15 minutes|
|Practiced material||15 minutes|
|New material||15 minutes|
|Open practice||15 minutes|
This schedule will get you further than you have ever been before. It is very similar to practice schedules given out by many colleges. For Scales I would highly recomend checking out a book called the Guitar Grimoire scales and modes by Adam Kadmon. This is by far the best book on scales I have seen. It is thorough and contains most of the scales that you will use. A really good chord book you should check out is Chord Chemistry by one of the masters of guitar Ted Greene (please release more music and books Ted). Be careful and make sure you get the one written by Ted Greene because it seems to me some moron stole that title and released a book not anywhere near as good as Teds. (He has also written a couple books on jazz soloing.) You should have all material for the schedule written and planned out before you start practicing so that you can go straight through without stopping until you switch subjects. This is a sample schedule you can break the subjects and times down to your liking, I have found this schedule to be thorough.
By Logan Al-Chokhachi
Ah yes, the ever popular topic of the pinch harmonic. Most at first don't even know what a pinch harmonic is, as it typically goes in my lessons. Generally speaking, I play one at the end of a lick and the student asks, "What was that crazy noise you just played," or "How did you make that low fret sound so high," if they are particularly perceptive. Well to understand the pinch harmonic on guitar, it is wise to first look at how it is performed on a bass, believe it or not.
When a bass player plays a pinch harmonic, he actually is performing a pinching motion on the string, with his pedaling (picking) hand. The bassist will place his thumb between his first finger and the high end of the fretboard creating a 90 degree angle on the string with the thumb. Then, they pluck as normal with their pedaling finger. In turn, a higher pitched note, or harmonic is accomplished. For a bass player this technique can be fatiguing and tiresome, as it requires much more energy on the thick bass strings. For a prime example of lots of pinch harmonics in action on bass, look for a video of Jaco Pastorius performing his song 'Bird Land.'
Now on the guitar, we don't require the use of the pinching motion as bass players do to accomplish their pinch harmonics. It can be done, mind you, if you are playing finger style with out a pick, if need be. For guitar, it is honestly better referred to as an artificial harmonic, as we don't pinch. But, that term is general, as there are multiple types of artificial harmonics. Generally speaking though, the term pinch harmonic is retained, but I do have students who will refer to them as 'pick harmonics' as the harmonic is half dependant on the pick.
Now how do we play pinch harmonics on guitar? As previously stated, the pinch harmonic is half dependant on the pick on guitar. The other half comes from, you guessed it: the thumb. Basically speaking what you need to do is pick the string with your pick and thumb simultaneously. This can be tricky if you have poor picking technique or are picking with the pick going flat against the string.
First, the pick should be cutting through the string, making close to a 90 degree angle with the string. Secondly, it is almost always necessary to choke up on your pick, or rather have less exposed (Cover more of it with your thumb so less pick is visible). This way, the point on your pick is almost not visible, therefore your thumb is much closer to the string, so less effort is required to actually perform a pinch harmonic. Because think about it: the last thing you want to have to think about in mid song is "Oh, I need to move my pick in so I can hit a pinch harmonic." Go ahead and always have less pick visible, its better technique and you will always be ready to hit the pinch harmonic. Third, pinch harmonics are scattered all over the area between the end of your fretboard and your bridge. After you get the technique comfortable, fret somewhere on your instrument and proceed to pick (with your pick and the side of your thumb simultaneously) everywhere between the end of the fretboard and your bridge. What you will find is that pinch harmonics are everywhere.
Now comes the real trick. When you fret in different spots on your fretboard, you will find your harmonics are in different spots. So, say you are fretting your G (third fret) on your sixth string and you've got a pinch harmonic down. Try holding down your B (seventh fret) on your sixth string and picking in the same spot. You probably won't get a pinch harmonic anymore. Move the pick around some though, and you will find that there is a pinch harmonic for B (a few actually) but just in a different location. So the key with using pinch harmonics is really patience and experimentation. You will find them, but being able to hit them on command takes a little time.
Now, here are a few pointers that don't involve playing, but will help make your pinch harmonics a little easier to accomplish. First, go ahead and set your pick up toggle to the bridge position. This pick up is generally much hotter (higher gain) and brings out the harmonic overtones easier. Second, turn on the distortion. Third, turn up the gain, if you have the option on your amp. These three keys will make the process much easier.
Finally, once you get the pinch harmonic, throw a vibrato on top of it with the fretting hand. You will hear this technique used constantly in rock and metal bands. It elongates the life of the pinch harmonic and really grabs the listener's ear.
That's it folks, so good luck and Godspeed on your pinch harmonic adventures.
Logan Al-Chokhachi 07.07.10
By Krystel (Becker) Al-Chokhachi
This is such a HUGE question that I get from all levels of students. And it's a pretty broad subject to cover. Let's start with what your mindframe should be, and then we'll get into some detail. But first, one of the songs that I wrote is available online if you want to hear it. Check out Ex Nihilis, which you can find links to at Hear Our Staff. It's available on our mySpace, on iTunes, and on the iPhone video game Thumstruck.
"There is beautiful music to be made at all levels." - Shawn Lane
There are two basic approaches you should start with. One is when you kow what style you want the song to be in. The other is when you don't. Wait....... what? You either sit down and try to make it sound like something specific, or you don't. That's the first step. Do I want to put myself under constraints, or do I not? Let's talk about the last one first, because it's pretty simple.
Not trying to sound like anything: Ok, Krystel, why would I do that? I like *this style* so why would I want to write anything else? Sometimes you want to just sit down and let things happen on their own. Do you know how much money you can make selling songs? Do you know that most of the bands you hear on the radio or on TV don't write their own songs, but perform songs they bought from professional writers? For example, you love metal, and wouldn't be caught dead playing country. Ok, fine, don't play it. I don't care. But what if you sit down and low and behold you are a natural at writing country songs? SELL THE STUFF FOR GOD'S SAKE! But Krystel, how often does that happen? Dolly Parton's (country) most profitable song was performed by Whitney Houston (pop). One of Jimi Hendrix most popular songs, All Along the Watchtower, was written by Bob Dylan. It happens every day.
Now, that's not the only reason you do this. Some of your best ideas will come when you aren't trying to force creativity. A lot of times when people just can't write it's because they are trying too hard to sound like something specific. If you just sit down and let whatever happens happen you'll get rid of whatever is blocking you from writing what you want. Don't take away from this that you should try to NOT write what you like, because that is trying to NOT sound like something, which is limiting what you can do and that defies the point. What I'm saying is that you want to sit down without precondition and just write, which we will talk about how to do in a minute.
Trying to sound like something: Ah, now here we are. This is WAY more complicated in comparison. You have to understand the style before you can write it. Makes sense, but most people neglect the depth of what that means. It doesn't mean that you listen to that style a lot. That's not enough. It means you have to understand what makes the style sound like it does and that can get pretty in depth, because there isn't a lot of difference between styles, believe it or not. For example, the most common progression in country is a I IV V. The most common progression in rock is a I IV V. The most common progression in blues is a I IV V. .................uh.............. Yeah. It's what you do with it that makes it sound like the style. For example, blues reharmonizes the chords to be dominant seventh chords, country and rock are diatonic (in key.) The big differences between rock and country (and have we noticed those lines are getting kind of blurred lately?) is the tone of the guitar, the rhythms, the embellishments, what the rest of the band does. We are going to learn as we go on that a lot of what you hear in the differences between the styles is actually coming from the drummer, the bassist, the vocalist, and any other instruments added in. Play a rock song with a guest banjo player and guess what the song will sound like. Take a hard rock song and change the scale from major to harmonic minor and it will sound more like metal. The scale you use, chord progression and type, diatonic or nondiatonic, tempo, rhythm, tone, other instruments, note choice, techniques you use, how much is single notes versus chords, vocals or no, drum solo? So many more things than this. These all define the different styles, what you use and how you use it. If you want to sound like a specific style without sounding like you're just imitating your favorite guitarist you need to understand why he sounds the way he sounds instead of just being able to sound like him.
My students often come back after we've first started talking about writing songs, and they say "I wanted it to sound like *this* but it sounded like *this*" Yep. That's normal. When I went from being a jazz fusion player to writing death metal it sounded like the soundtrack for a mexican block party. I am SO serious. It was bad (not that mexican music is bad, but when you want it to sound like death metal and it sounds like you're being serenaded in a mexican restaurant......... yeah......... bad.........) I hadn't been playing guitar for very long (I was a professional bassist before I learned how to play guitar if you didn't know) and I hadn't listened to metal in YEARS, and I got back in to it, and tried to start writing it before I understood it well enough, and it was so very not good. And it's part of the process. You don't know if you know the style well enough to pull it off until you try. And sometimes when you try it's soul crushing. But you'll get it. Now, let's look at the next big thing with this.
How much do I need to know?: Please refer to the Shawn quote above. *sigh* Alright, here we go.... Make sure you read EVERYTHING I'm about to write please. Don't just get to the part that makes you feel better about yourself and then quit reading, you'll miss the point if you do that. Ok, ready? You don't need to know anything at all. (see why I said that?..... now.... keep reading please) There has been a long line of musicians that wrote phenomenal music that didn't know !*@$ about music. I've dealt with musicians that knew way too much and couldn't write to save their life. Musicians can be rated on a spectrum, with two extremes (my students are rolling their eyes..... oh here she goes again, but without the hand gestures......... I'll put them in for you) On one extreme side of the spectrum you have the musicians that only play by ear *holding out her left arm and shaking her left fist*. On the other side you have the musicians that only play by theory *holding out her right arm and shaking her right fist*. Both have their good and bad players. And all players fall somewhere inside of this spectrum. My goal for myself and my students, and what your goal should be also, is to fall (smacking her fists together) RIGHT IN THE CENTER. Aren't I epic? You want to do both. You want to be both. Sometimes it's best just to listen. Sometimes it's better to analyze. If you want to be able to do anything, and to be the best at what you do, you should be balanced. As you grow as a musician you will move around on this spectrum. The goal is to try to be so good at both sides that you are on the whole in the center, that way you can move from one extreme to the other at will. For example, it is best to write blues more on the ear side of the spectrum, shred is more on the theory side of the spectrum. If you write blues with too much theory in mind you will sound contrived and insincere, if you write shred by ear you'll sound incohesive and like you stole the song you wrote. Now analyzing blues with theory to see why what your favorite players did works is good to do. But if you overthink during the writing process, bad.
So, it should be your goal to learn everything you can, to train your ear, to train your fingers, and then use what you need for what you are writing. I always use some degree of theory when writing, sometimes it's through the entire process, sometimes it's only in the beginning when I'm choosing a key, or looking at the chords I have available to me. I always use some degree of playing by ear with everything I write, improvised solos, or writing melodies. Balance, my dear, it's all in the balance. Now, remember that I said you have to know the style before you can write it, and learning the style is also a balance between ear and theory. And it starts with the ear. LISTEN to the style in a very focused manner. See if you recognize certain things they are doing, sounds like just major chords, or that solo was mainly sweeps, or they only use power chords, or it sounds kinda jazzy, basic observations like this. Get tabs and analyze those. Figure out what the progressions are (bands are repetitious when you get down to a theory level) what keys they are using, what scales, what chords, do they sweep, use sequences a lot? What's the structure for this style? Intro Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Solo Chorus Verse Chorus Outro. Twelve Bar Blues Progression. Tons of breakdowns. Same structure with key changes. Look for these things in many songs by the same band, many bands of the same style, two styles that seem totally different on the surface. Pay attention to the movement of the song, the rhythm, the speed, the note values, the busyness of the other instruments. You are observing. These are the things that define the styles. And as you mix these things you get other styles. Take rock and jazz concepts and you get progressive rock (Rush, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd.) Take jazz and simplify it and you get blues.
The more you know the more options you have. That doesn't mean you'll use everything you know every time. But it's there if you need it.
Creativity is a SKILL which some people are born with and that other people LEARN
I feel compelled to talk about this before we move on. How many times I have had to give this little lecture is beyond me, I lost count. How creativity has become some mystic thing that certain people are bestowed with upon birth and will remain a mystery to everyone else I will never know. Nothing else is like that. Yes, some people are born naturally gifted in certain areas (an image of a two year old throwing a ball and a dad screaming HE'S GONNA BE A FOOTBALL PLAYER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! comes to mind.) This is so important I have to highlight it:
Did you get that? Anyone can do anything if they work at it, and that includes being creative. Most of you just have to sit down and try. And like everything else it will suck at first. People expect that with everything else. But not with this for some reason, they try once and if it doesn't work... nope, not creative. My favorites are my 40 year olds that tell me that they aren't creative because they sucked in art class in 7th grade. I laugh and gently explain that 7th grade art class doesn't matter. People get all uppity " No, you don't understand, really, I'm not creative at all." Ok, I'm not capable of flying a plane at all because I'VE NEVER TRIED. Creativity is a skill that can be learned and improved with exercise and experience. There are books available that walk you through the process of becoming more creative if you think it may be an issue. Now, let's take this one step further. If creativity is an improvable skill that means that as you work on writing songs you will get better at it. Your songs will get more creative as you continue to write. So don't give up.
Ok, now lets talk about writing, shall we? We'll break it up in the same way, knowing what style we are writing and not. We'll start with not.
Ok, grab your guitar. Now pick a note. I don't care, any note, just play one. Now play another one. I don't care what that one is either, so long as you like how it sounds. And I don't care how you pick the note either. Think of a scale, think of half steps or whole steps, don't think at all. It doesn't matter. Just find a new note that sounds good when played after the first one. Now, pick another note. Ok, we have three notes. I've heard guitar solos with less..... Now mess with the timing, or the technique, or keep it the way you're playing it, and then pick another note. Any note. Even one you've already played, it doesn't matter. But your ear at this point should be pulling you toward certain notes, some shouldn't sound right when you try them. This is it folks. This is how you start. You pick a note, and then you pick another, and then another. No matter what, if you refine down the process of writing, it simplifies to this. Of course, it gets much more complicated, but this is how you start writing melody. Do the same with chords. Pick one to start with, and then find another one, etc. At some point you'll find that you have something cohesive, something that is starting to sound like something. If not, well it was a great exercise in ear training. If you did get something that you like WRITE IT DOWN. Yes you will forget it, and don't argue with me. Write down everything you come up with, and not just the frets you played, but also try to write the timing, even if you don't know how to do that. Come up with a way, no matter how stupid it may seem to other people. It's not just the notes you choose, it's how you play them, and that part is even easier to forget.
You aren't writing a full song yet, we'll talk about that later. For now we're just getting some ideas that we can use. Writing songs is all about taking smaller things that sound good and finding a way to link them together. Right now we're just coming up with those pieces.
Alright, what if you are trying to write in a specific style? We already said that you have to analyze the style first, but then what? Let's walk through the song I mentioned earlier, Ex Nihilis. I'll use this just because it's easily available online. I head up a team of local musicians that write and record songs for a local video game company named Resolute that releases games for the iPhone. One day I was talking to one of the staff members about coming up with another original song for a game called Thumstruck (we had already written an original song for the main theme of the game.) We were trying to decide which style I should go with (I was writing this one on my own because the other writers on the team had other obligations) and I had mentioned that there was a neoclassical arpeggio section that I had written several years ago that I had never done anything with, and he said Go with that. See what I'm getting at, you come up with ideas, and write them down and sometimes they just sit on the shelf. I have tons of files, and sheets of paper and tab books that are FULL of ideas I haven't done anything with, and when I need a starting point, or am having a hard time filling in a blank spot in a song, I just flip through it and find something to work with. So I sat down with this arpeggio section and thought, ok, great, writing neoclassical. I don't do that.... that's why I never did anything with the arpeggios.... Ok, so now what? Well, what makes neoclassical sound the way it sounds? Harmonic Minor. Ok, well these arpeggios are in the key of A Harmonic Minor, so we'll start there. (as far as how I came up with the arpeggio section, I was learning an arpeggio excerpt from a neoclassical song for the practice, liked the shapes I was using and moved them around to make them my own.) I thought through where my power chords would be, and messed around with that a little and came up with a basic progression. Neoclassical is also full of pedal points and sequences, so I started messing around with those and came up with some that sounded cool, there was a pedal point section that I had written before that I thought would work, so I slapped that in there. Then I needed some form of melody. Everything needs a melody. I'd been working with Bach's Tocatta and Fugue recently, and thought about how the meoldy at the beginning felt and with that in mind I started messing around with the modes of harmonic minor and came up with a cool melody. Then I decided to write a more traditional clean classical intro with diads and melody, but instead of going with a classical guitar intro, I used guitar and bass together to imitate the tonal spread you can get on piano, writing the bassline like the left hand and the guitar part like the right hand. Then I started working on some licks to get a solo type section. Once I had all these pieces, I started moving them around in an order that sounded good, came up with some little fillers to link everything together, changed the chord progression around a little bit in a couple of places, wrote the bassline, had a drummer improvise the drumline during recording and there you go. Done.
This is a fairly common approach I take when writing for a specific style. I take into consideration everything that defines the style, and use that as a starting point for what I am going to do. Although I don't limit myself to that. You have to have a certain amount of what defines a style in a song if you want it to sound like that style, but you do have a little bit of leeway. For example, it has become common lately to put clean jazz breakdowns in death metal. It's two totally different things, but it works. One style that I love, Indian music (like, far east, india), gets put in to almost every song I write in some form or another. You can blend styles without end up being fusion. Fusion is basically where two or more styles get blended to the point that you end up with a new style. Placing parts of one style into another can be done without changing the main style of the song if you are careful with what or how you blend. Be creative. And if you come up with something that you weren't expecting, but it sounds cool then who cares what you call it, right?
How about songs with lyrics? Couple different things here. One is when you have lyrics and need a song, the other is when you have a song and need lyrics. If you have neither then pick one to start with. If you have lyrics, and they are actually lyrics, you should have a basic idea of the meter and melody for the lyrics. If not you haven't thought about it yet, or you have a poem and not lyrics and there is an UBER HUGE DIFFERENCE between lyrics and poetry. Not to say that lyrics can't be poetic. But lyrics need a degree of repetition and cohesiveness that is generally lacking in good poetry, atleast in my opinion. Poetry also has a larger variety of structure and meter, whereas lyrics need to have a defined structure and a certain repetitious meter if the song is going to sound fluid. There are a lot of different ways that you can start writing the rhythm behind lyrics. This next part is only talking about lyrics that are sung, we'll get to lyrics that are just screams in a minute. The first step is to choose chords that work behind the lyrics. Try starting with a key. Either just pick one to experiment with, or find the notes that you are singing on your guitar and figure out the best key for it. Then just start singing and playing random chords until it sounds right. Of course you can get more in depth with it and figure out every note you are signing and how it would fit harmonically over certain chords, but you can also just play random chords until it sounds good. Either way.
If the movement through the song is fluid, the key doesn't matter.
If everything flows well, you can totally disregard key. Think about people who talk a lot. They start on one subject that leads them to another and then another, and you follow along just fine because the subjects blur together when they are linked by a common trait. You can do that with note/chord choice too. Once you have some chords that seem to go ok over the words you start working on the rhythm. Match the meter of the lyrics first (this is all syllable based.) Then start embellishing a little if you want, extra strums here and there. Mess around with upstrokes, downstrokes, mutes, adding embellishing tones into your chords. Then fill in blank spaces, like between the chorus and second verse for example, by taking all or part of the basic progression and repeating it, coming up with a new progression that follows the other progression well, or writing a melody. You can make the progression or embellishments a little more complicated during these sections if you want to since there is no singer to clash with. Remember that the person singing is the focal point, so you want to be a little simple during the actual singing. If the lyrics change key it's good to change the key in the guitar line while there is no singing, it will help your singer switch keys more gracefully.
Now if the singer doesn't really sing but screams you are more worried about matching or complimenting meter. You can get away with a lot more since there isn't much going on note wise here, so it's much easier to choose a key. Keep the same idea in mind that you want to be more simplified when the vocalist is vocalizing than when he isn't. You can be very complicated over screams, but always make the parts when he isn't screaming more complicated or it will sound like he forgot to come back in. It makes the song sound more full and complete that way. That's not saying that you can't repeat the riff when he isn't doing anything, you can do whatever you want. But it's typical to be more simplified when the vocalist is performing.
When you have a song and no lyrics....... this is a lot harder to work with sometimes. First you have to make sure that the rhythm line has some form of meter that a vocalist can work with. Things need to have some form of pattern to it, or the lyrics won't sound right. The chords themselves don't so much matter as the rhythm. Remember meter basically comes down to syllables. Have some form of rhythmic pattern going where syllables can be fit in with a pattern line by line. That pattern doesn't matter much so long as there is a pattern. Find the meter and start filling in words from there. Humming or whistling or making some kind of vocalization before the lyrics get written is a good idea because you can get an idea of the meter without having to totally rework the lyrics when you realize the song is either to long or too short in certain parts. Of course, the song will change as the lyrics get added in anyway, but you want to have an idea of the meter ahead of time.
One very important thing to keep in mind is that you do not write songs from beginning to end. You write bits and pieces and those pieces move around a lot as you go. Meaning you don't have to start with the intro. Start wherever inspiration strikes and work from there.
There are a lot of different approaches to writing songs, and it's a little different for everyone. You have to be open to trying a bunch of different things when you first start out, and as you go along you'll start to develope your own method. I have several different ways that I write. What I do depends on what I am writing and how I get started. Sometimes I'll hear an idea in my head and have to get it out, and when that happens I follow a completely different chain of events than if I were playing my guitar and I come up with something that sounds cool. Sometimes I write stuff without even using my guitar. For those of you that use Guitar Pro, sometimes I just sit down with my laptop and write, which is great when I am somewhere that I can't bring my guitar, but I can bring my computer. I've been playing and writing music long enough that I can just think about what I would play, how it would feel and how it would sound without even touching my guitar, and I just enter it in to Guitar Pro. A couple of the songs for my solo cd were written entirely like that. In fact, no matter how I write my songs, they always end up in Guitar Pro. It makes arrangement a lot easier, as well as writing for the other musicians I will be working with. Not only can I hear how their parts will sound with mine without having to learn them, but I can just print their part out for them instead of having to show it to them. Another great thing about Guitar Pro is that I can turn the tablature off, export the notation as a .pdf file, and use that file to electronically file for copyright protection. Sooooo easy.
Point is you have to experiment, and you have to accept the fact that your first few tries may very well not end up the way you want them. Oh well, you're learning and will get better with time. Which leads me to a very important subject. Never fall in love with anything you write. This will kill any chance you have at getting a good song. You have to be willing to change stuff, to move stuff around, to cut parts out. Your song is not finished until the recording is being mastered. Up until the song is in the hands of the engineer and not yours there is a high likelyhood that SOMETHING will have to change. You have to be willing to keep working with the song until it's just right, and some of those changes may come as late as when you sit down to record it. Maybe you think that the solo you wrote is amazing, and I'm sure it is, but if it doesn't fit the song you put it in, guess what kid, you have to cut it. Now remember that earlier I said write everything down, keep track of everything you come up with. Just take your killer solo and file it away for later use. Or better yet, if it's such a great solo, write a song specifically for it. You have to be willing to move things around. You have to be willing to change your mind, especially when it comes to the stage where you start working on the song with other musicians.
So you've been sitting around, writing the next great rock anthem of the world, and you finally get it to the point where you are ready to get some other people involved. So you get together with a bassist and a drummer, and you play your precious baby for them and they tell you EVERYTHING that's wrong with it. Don't get defensive, this is part of their job. Genuinely listen to what they are saying and take it into consideration. They might be right. Now if you are working with people who think that they are always right and you are always wrong, take that into consieration too, A drummer that doesn't know how to play gutiar probably shouldn't be telling you how to play guitar, but he listens to music too and has a very valid opinion about what something should sound like. If you are working with good musicians they should know their role and yours in the band and be constructive. That being said you shouldn't be sitting there as a glory hog taking epic solos all the time and thinking that everything is about you because it's not. Point in case, my metal students. They first get into guitar and they think the guitar lines are so amazing and fast and technical and they try to write songs that are complicated, fast and busy. Then when I start teaching them how to actually listen to music I have to seriously break their hearts because most of the "fast" stuff that they are hearing is actually the drummer, not the guitar player. Ouch. Most metal riffs with fast tremolo picked single notes appear faster than they are because of the double bass work of the drummer. That's not to say that the lines aren't fast, technical and complicated, just that they seem moreso with the rest of the band playing. Which leads me to my next few points. First of all, the song sounds a whole lot different when you get the entire band together. If you don't take into consideration what the time signature and tempo means to the drummer, you can end up with a guitar line you loved by itself sounding totally different once a drummer starts to play. If you are writing songs just to have cool guitar lines and you aren't thinking about anything else you are going to end up with lame, beginner level shred and nothing else.
Second point, when you write take into consideration what everyone else will be playing. Leave room for everyone. There is only so much space in a song. If you are trying to write a song that sounds full and complete with just a single guitar, you're not going to have room for everyone else and it will sound lame. NEVER OVERWRITE THE GUITAR LINE. Playing other peoples songs can give you a little bit of an idea of how this works, but not really because your brain is filling in what the rest of the band was doing in the song even if you aren't thinking about it. Leave space for everyone else. Remember that the song may sound a little incomplete, seem a little empty, because a song is about the entire band working together, not you being cool.
But Krystel, I'm a guitar player, and I'm good, and I want to make ME sound good. No, no, no. You are setting yourself up for only being able to impress people that don't know you or guitar. If all you think about is yourself you will never ever write music that people can appreciate. Now you may write some songs that are impressive to other guitar players just from the sheer chops you have. But that's not music. That's guitar exercises with a backing track. When you think about everyone else sounding good you take the focus off of your ego, and the music that you create as a result is actual music. People may not like the style but they will be able to appreciate that you know your style well and did a good job at it. When you are writing a solo section think about what the other musicians are going to be doing, give them a chance to sound good. You will sound much better because of it. I have more respect for a solid band, no matter how simple or complicated, than I do for a solo guitarist that sounds like he's playing to a lame backing track. Simple music can really impress me if everyone knew their place and did their job well, when everyone sounds good and sounds like they are an important part of the song. And the bands that can balance fast, technical guitar lines, complicated bass lines and busy drumlines, that to me is truly impressive.
Krystel Becker 02.20.09
A Note From Krystel, and in honor and respect of Jimmy, The Shawn Lane Family, Shawn's Friends, Fans..... and everyone he touched......
It is now the end of 2007, and I still cannot bring myself to change a single thing..... not a single thing here. Because he was so..... beyond us.... I can't change a thing. He was so much a part of us here in life, and has become so much a part of us spiritually in his ascention. I have to leave it all as it was, as it would have been. No matter how far away his passing gets, I will never, ever, ever change Shawn is to Shawn was.... because he still is..... as I said both then and now...... he is
Shawn Lane Memorial Concert
In Memory of Shawn Lane
On September 26, 2003 we lost the greatest guitar player who ever lived. Shawn passed away from us in a hospital in Memphis, TN. He was 40 years old. In the coming days and possibly weeks we will try to bring ourselves to say a few things about Shawn, and the impact of his passing on us. For now, we need to take a step back, as the gravity of this loss pulls us into mourning. We are not, for now, equipt to change "Shawn Lane is" into "Shawn Lane was".
On September 30, 2003 Jimmy and I attended Shawn Lane's wake. It had been a hard few days leading up to it, and needless to say when I got there I was really reluctant to go see him. Everyone was reluctant to go see him. But after you get hit upside the head with the reality that he is gone, there is this overwhelming calm that takes you over. At one point Jimmy and I found ourselves standing there alone, looking at Shawn. Everything faded away from me, all I could see was his face. I found myself wandering to horror movies and comedy routines where someone in a coffin would come back to life, I imagined him blinking, raising his head to talk to me, looking over at me, somewhere deep within I desperately wished those hoaky routines would find their way to reality, just this once. Slowly, there with Shawn, I let it sink in that he was gone from here. And I'm ok with that, I have no choice but to be ok with that. Because eventually everything faded away while I was standing there, and it was just me and Shawn, and I honestly looked at him, I mean really honestly looked at him without letting my emotions color what I saw, it was there that for the first time since I heard the news that I found some deep and lasting comfort. Shawn is at peace. It is something I needed to see for myself. He's gone, his body was, for me, painfully empty, but he is at peace, I promise.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about Shawn's family for a minute. When Jimmy and I were unable to cope, it was his family who came to us and said everything will be ok. It was Shawn's family that comforted all the broken hearts. With their trademark strength, they were there for the rest of us to lean on in moments of weakness. They have always been so supportive of Shawn, always gave him their best, and were always willing to take charge to make sure Shawn got what he needed. This could not have been more obvious than when you walked in to see Shawn. There he was, laying there peacefully in the softly lit room, music quietly drifted into your presence, as if music itself were in mourning. At his feet stood his guitar. And standing next to him, his beloved Mamaw, an awe inspiring pillar of strength and will, smiling warmly, consoling everyone who came to say goodbye. "He's ready to play," she told us. For the last few days all of us had been thinking, if they put a tie on him I'll take it off myself. We should have had faith in the love and honor his family had for him. From his favorite hat, to his shades in his hand, and I'm willing to bet that he was wearing sandals, if he was wearing shoes at all. For good measure Jimmy gave him one of my Jazz III's, they were his favorite. He was like Shawn always was, and that helped the healing process immensly. The room was as peaceful as Shawn himself, as if he were standing at the door, asking you to witness what was always in the depth of his heart, to be with him one more time before he had to go.
We love you Shawn.
Krystel and I actually left the wake feeling better about things I was reassured that everything was going to be ok. I felt that Shawn found his peace wherever that may be, he found it. The next day before the funeral we were in the hallway at Memorial Park talking to Mick, Joris, and Souvnik. It was interesting exchanging Shawn stories and figuring out what next. The funeral was I think exactly how Shawn would have wanted it, other than Shawn really hated to see people hurt. Shawn was such a sweet person who would have literally given you the shirt off his back if he thought you were cold. It was really sad as they started with ICH RUF ZU DIR HERR JESU by J.S Bach on Pipe organ.Then a few of Shawns relatavies came up and spoke. His mom had mentioned how at the age of four Shawn asked her what infinity was and that he had set a few guitars on fire in his days. After they spoke for a little while Joris came up and played the most beautiful piano piece I have ever heard, I forget who the composer was but it was so fitting of Shawn. Then they played epilouge for Lisa but this time it was for Shawn. After the family spoke some of his friends came up and really it was an open forum for people to come up and talk, Shawn really would have wanted it that way as that is how he always conducted himself in any situation. Shawn loved conversation. It started with Darrel. Darrel was the Drummer in Shawns first band Typhoid. He was Shawns best friend up until Shawn went on the road with B.O.A. Then Mick came up and vowed to do everything in his power to keep Shawns music alive. Jim Dandy and Andy came up and spoke from B.O.A. Andy had the crowd stand up and give Shawn his well deserved last standing ovation. A member of the Willeys came up and spoke. Many people came up by the time it was said and done, but when the funeral was over of course people were paying their last respects, and I knew it was the last time I would never seen my dear friend again. So although I left the wake feeling better, I left the funeral feeling much worse. I miss Shawn so much he was a really good friend to have. Shawn was in an extreme amount of Pain and couldnt get the proper healthcare he needed so I have to belive he is not suffering anymore and he is in a better place. His music and legacy will live on forever.
Goodbye, Shawn. We miss you terribly.
Jimmy: Shawn is a very good friend of mine, we have been friends for quite a few years. Shawn is a very gentle person. He is a very funny person. He is wide versed in his knowledge. He loves animals, books, science, religion, and movies. One of his favorite places to go is a local library. You will not find Shawn in a place like a hardware store or a Walmart. You may see him in a museum somewhere in Vienna, or in a whole in the wall vietnamese restraunt in Northern Cleveland.Shawn also really loves Art. He is quite the historian with not only classical music but music in general. He has a massive CD and tape collection and really likes all forms of music. He does not play video games, as I just had to ask him one day, because I mean come on those fingers move so fast, I would hate to play the guy in Street Fighter or something. Shawn is mysterious in the fact that you never know when he will take stage and how long he will play for. On a good night it may be four or five in the morning when he stops playing. He is also one of the most humble musicians I have ever known, which could take some people by suprise considering what kind of player he is. You will never run out of topics for conversation with Shawn he loves to talk about anything. He loves his family and fans dearly. In his immediate family he has a daughter, two sisters, his mother and his grandmother. He has a very unique cult following for a fan base all across the world. You can not listen to Shawn Lane without bieng completely blown away with by his skills as a musician. Of course in a town like Memphis where blues, hick and rap are prevalent Shawn is way underappreciated, but that's there fault because If Elvis is the King of Rock and Roll, and BB is the King of Blues, than long live The King of Shred Shawn Lane. Shawn is the real Jack Butler, the movie crossroads at the end has erie similarities to Shawn, considering Jack Butler was from Memphis and all. So here we have this guy playing in some small place here, you think oh another band, until that amp gets turned on, everybody gets their head cut when they listen to Shawn. The few that have dared play with him are lucky to be alive, it takes some guts to play with Shawn.
Krystel: Shawn has done so much for me. He has really added a new perspective to my music. I mean, really, the man is just fast. And free. Very, very free. Unhindered. Without bounds. Oblivious to limitation. Well, most of the time, or rather mostly about time...... in every aspect..... but especially live.... I really love to listen to Shawn though. Nothing is quite like him live. His tone just grabs you and refuses to let you go. I think, out of all the ways that Shawn has influenced my music, his tone has had the most affect on me. I wasn't really passionate about creating a living, breathing tone until I started listening to him live. It's really inspiring. I mean, we gave the man a tiny little amplifier in a cigarette pack and he still made it sound like his tone. He can play through anything and make it sound good. I mean anything. He'll just grab an amp and a distortion pedal, multifx processor, flip a couple switches and just be Shawn. I pick up an amp and a pedal and I'm just horrible.... Aside from his amazing tone, I like his approach. He really doesn't limit himself. He'll do anything with music at all. Literally, anything. Some of it I can't say I like, but I respect that he so doesn't give a damn that he just plays anything at all. When he actually plays chords, which isn't quite as often as a lot of people, they are well constructed. You can tell where he gets influence from (maily E.J. and Holdsworth.) Shawn on a personal level is incredibly funny. A lot of people don't get it, and sometimes I think Shawn is being serious, but he is just really really funny. And interesting. Talk about a tangent. The man can go off. It's great. Inspiring. (You wouldn't know it by not being close to me, but when you get to know me I never, ever shut up...) I take a lot of influence from how he can start a conversation about the color of a door and end up on a houseboat in the orient eat three day old rice while reminicing about an old lady that hit him over the head while he was crying over a painting in Greece. I mean, the man is crazy.... in a what an interesting and inspiring person sort of way.
Who is Shawn Lane?
Shawn Lane was born March 21, 1963 in Memphis Tn. He has played music since the age of 4. At the age of 8 his grandmother gave him his first guitar. He shortly thereafter started playing live. Shawn being the little pyro maniac he is recalls setting off flash paper while playing at the Jewish Center when he was 11 or 12, he recalls catching the headstock of his guitar on fire during this proccess. When Shawn was 14 he got a job playing with Black Oak Arkansas. During this time he was heavely influenced by the keyboard player who was also a classical pianist. Shawn would go to the library and get classical records and was really into classical music. He tells of when they were touring he use to drive Jim Dandy crazy playing classical records in the tour bus. Shawn got to play with all kinds of big names during this time. Jim Dandy talks of a time that Ted Nugent made him mad so he got Shawn up there. Now here is Ted Nugent Mr huge ego himself, and this kid walks up there and makes him look like a moron on stage.
Shawn left Black Oak and pretty much lived a life of practice and study. He played with various people during the 80's and even taught lessons to a few people during that time. In the mid and late 80's he had a band called the Willeys. People were filming his shows with the Willeys and these boot leg tapes made their way all over the world. For a while boot leg Shawn Lane tapes where being traded on campus of GIT like Real Books are amongst jazz students. I have heard numerous stories of Shawn just shredding people right and left. One of which, a very drunk Joe Walsh, Joe was ticked off that Shawn played his part of Hotel California better than he did. Shawn played on the highwaymen 2 record in Nashville in 89, and later got a Warner Bros deal. He recorded Powers of Ten in Nashville playing all instruments himself, it truely was a turning point for advanced music. He truly is a multiple instrumentalist not just a fast guitar player. When Shawn plays drums he approaches it like ok I am now the drummer, same with keyboard or bass or any other instruments. That part skips allot of guitar players who sound like a guitar player playing drums. Shawn also recorded two instructional videos during this time that are still available. Shawn was also best guitarist of the years in Guitar player magazine, and runner up in keyboard player magazine in 92. The funny thing is I have heard he was not even on the ballad for the keybaord player magazine, it was strictly write in votes. During this time Shawn was endorsed by Ibanez, at one of the Namm shows all the Ibanez Shredders where invited to participate in this Jam. You had Steve Vai, Joe Satrianni, Paul Gilbert, Billy Sheehan, and really everybody that was a whos who in the shred community. So these guys were doing there whidally diddaly doos, then Shawn steps up to the plate to do his solo. This is when everyone else was so humbled they stopped playing. In fact Vai jumped down and grabbed somebodys video camera, goes back on stage just so that he could film this monster perform. Somewhere there is a video of this floating around. (It wasn'y Billy Sheehan, but Vai, Satch, Gilbert, Timmons, and a few others were there, we have this video now and play it in our lobby frequently.)
In 94 he started playing with Jonas Helborg. They have this click, it is just pure improv, just pure raw music that is just mind boggling. In 95 they started playing with Drummer Jeff Sipe (Left Over Salmon, Aquarium Rescue Unit). SO you had these three musicians up there probably the best guitarist, drummer, and bassist in the world all up there together. When they recorded Temporal Analouges of Paradise they were live in China with this TV audience of Millions of people. So here they are recording live making the whole thing up as they went along and this album is slowly progressing up so by the end of the 2nd movement you just have this incredibly fast music that would humble anyone. They did a number of gigs over the next couple of years all over the world. Most of the recordings with Helborg, Sipe, Lane where done live. Shawn and Jonas later started playing with V. Selvaganesh on percussion. They have recorded both Good People in the Times of Evil and also Icon. Shawn also released 2 solo albums Tritone fascination and Powers of Ten Live. He is still playing with Jonas and doing sessions in Memphis.
Ordering information will follow in the Links section.
He did sooooo much stuff, so this is very abridged, things that we have that we love. Just look around the internet, you'll find all kinds of different performances that have been released.
Powers of Ten
Powers of Ten Live
The Tritone Fascination
With Jonas Hellborg and Jeff Sipe
Temporal Analogues of Paradise
Time is the Enemy
With Jonas Hellborg and V. Selvaganesh
Good People in Times of Evil
With Jonas Hellborg, V. Selvaganesh, V. Umamahesh and V. Umashankar
With Jonas Hellborg and Kofi Baker
With Michael Shrieve and Jonas Hellborg