The Deeper You Dig, The Darker It Gets

This is one of my transcriptions from back in the day. It’s the two-handed tapping section of the guitar solo from “Get The Funk Out” by Extreme.

Looking back, I’m probably more proud of my hand notation and observance of musical nomenclature formalities than any of the actual transcription. Don’t get me wrong—you won’t find a more accurate transcription of this thing anywhere else (Hal Leonard Best Note-For-Note my ass).

The reason I share this with you is because it might be…too accurate.

Yes, dear reader, such a thing exists and has many forms: missing the forest for the trees, over-analysis, obsessive–compulsive personality disorder, infobesity, etc. As a former perpetrator, I hope to impart some life-lessonry here so that you too can save yourself from the perils of rock n’ roll ignorance.

About two years after I had penned this work, I tracked down/ambushed transcriber extraordinaire (and instructor par excellence) Dale Turner in the illustrious hallways of Musicians Institute and handed him a copy.

After three seconds of applying his music speed-reading powers, Dale said, “It’s good except for this one note.”

Not sure of which I found more shocking, the man’s alien precision or the wrong note, I decided to have a closer look.

“On the second staff here. That ‘D’ should be a ‘G’,” he indicated. I instantly knew where he was looking. It was a note I remembered because it oddly broke out of a fast repeating pattern for no special reason. It probably wasn’t even intentional but it made the record and I caught the bastard.

“I slowed the CD down and the ‘D’ is what I heard,” I responded, to which Dale then offered this pearl of wisdom:

“The point is to show what he intended to play.”

I’ll admit this didn’t exactly sink in at first. However, it eventually became a reminder for me not to lose sight of the big picture ever again.

I developed a periodic habit of dropping trivial details and asking myself what I really wanted whenever I faced important life or career decisions. In modern society, we get caught up in so much day-to-day bullshit that we constantly forget why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place.

Sometimes you need to impose reality checks on yourself. It takes less than 5 minutes and you don’t need to go out and dodge oncoming traffic during rush hour either.

I’m calling it the Existential Crisis Protocol, or ECP.

I find it effective to perform this procedure every so often but others might need to do this multiple times a day at first. We will use the abbreviated version here. Begin by asking yourself this question:

“Am I happy?”

If your answer is yes, then carry on with your supercalifragilistic day. If your answer is no, then proceed with the protocol:

1. What do I really want out of my life?

If what you want is to be happy, that’s a good starting point. It may seem overly simplistic but it’s still important to realize. Happiness is a discipline and it does take effort so you’d be wise to practice this by working on things that actually mean something you.

Also, the reason I don’t like to follow up the preliminary “am I happy” question with “why am I not happy” is that many people don’t actually know why they are unhappy. Usually, they are just unfulfilled or doing work they are not passionate about.

Using myself as an example, here’s how I have answered this question many times: I want to play my music around the world.

Playing, writing and recording music is fulfilling work for me. I identify music as a personal success that brings me joy. But the zenith, or ultimate form of this to me, is playing songs I wrote in a band for people across the globe.

The key is to find something that would represent the funnest version of whatever ambitions you have, no matter how lofty it might seem. If you are having trouble, slap yourself (tears help) and then read this article.

2. What am I currently doing to progress towards this goal or fulfilling life?

Make two lists: One for goal-supporting activities and one for goal-destroying activities. This can be tricky if you’ve been deluded into thinking things like being a professional musician requires knowledge of every scale ever invented.

I’m not saying it’s okay to just skim the lake all the time; I still enjoy delving deep into a subject and absorbing every detail. However, this habit can lead to procrastination, analysis paralysis or information overload, i.e. you ain’t gettin’ shit done. Be brutally honest as you write.

Me:

Goal-Supporting

Writing my songs

Recording my songs

Playing shows with my band

Interning at XYZ recording studio

Goal-Destroying

Practicing scales 8 hours everyday

Jamming (aimlessly) with so-and-so “to be nice”

Reading redundant “how to” articles

Dicking around on Facebook

Complaining

3. Eliminate.

When you finish writing, look over your goal-destroying list and eliminate or reduce these activities as much as possible. For jobs and other obligations that may not directly support your ambitions but are necessary for your food & shelter needs, let them stand (unless you can do better).

You might be surprised to find your goal-destroying list is longer than your goal-supporting list. This is to put things in perspective for you. How much time are you really putting into your aspirations?

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Once I started trimming the fat off my personal and professional responsibilities, my actions began to align with my goals. The result? I progressed much faster and became more efficient with my time.

I know what it’s like to pour all your energy into one thing…even if that one thing is just a freakin’ sixteenth note. It’s fun to woodshed for hours. You’ll probably learn something too (bring a flashlight cuz it gets dark PDQ).

Lesson                                                                                                                                If you wanna hit the shed, cool, but one thing: don’t forget how beautiful it is outside.

Earlier, hashed-out version of my transcription

Transcribing the drums was much easier. Before I knew what to call the hi-hat, I went with “tsuss-ssiti” to denote the sound a hi-hat makes in a disco beat.

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Are You Suppressing Your Inner Speed Demon?

Steve Morse Chromatic Octaves. Yngwie Triplet Sweeps. Paganini Lick. Petrucci X Lick. Gilbert Symmetrical Sequence. Terry Syrek 5-String Legato Sweep. Spider of Doom Lick. Rusty Cooley Video Game Death Lick. Buckethead Roller Coaster on Space Mountain Lick.

You could say I had a little preoccupation in my late teens. Looking through my old practice logs I’m amazed I actually finished high school. I am also amazed I didn’t lose my mind while tracking progress for about 70 licks and their variations right down to the beats per minute. If you saw the sh*t I wrote, you would likely wonder the same.

Fortunately, I have learned a few things since my teenage speed crusade. One of those things involves a device that’s popular with guitarists (read: shredders) worldwide: metronomes.

First of all, this is not another rant about metronomes (Zzzz) but rather an observation about my own playing (particularly alternate picking) I made a few years back. Also, I believe the element of speed in music is, just like everything else, a tool that can be manipulated to create excitement. Slow and fast playing is just like different colors on a painter’s palette; they are used to stir up certain emotions. That being said, there are many guitarists who want to develop their speed but cannot seem to break past a certain point. If you’re a speed-seeking missile who has slaved away on every shred routine in every guitar magazine to no avail, read on.

In the realm of lead guitar, metronomes are great for pretty much one thing and that’s mastering the mechanics of a technique or lick at any speed. Start at a slow bpm and gradually increase the tempo until you sound like the record. This is generally how shredders get fast.

After using this approach for a few years, I eventually moved to Los Angeles and got heavy into…wait for it…nope, not that…not that either…ready? Songwriting. I got a small Pro Tools rig and spent many hours writing and recording songs. I also started watching other guitar players in town. My friend Dave and I would go see guys like Jason Hook (pre-Five Finger Death Punch) and Phil X (pre-Fretted Americana) perform at small clubs in Hollywood. This was huge. Seeing dudes who played rock n’ roll just peeling off these super fast licks from 10 feet away was very inspiring.

Over time, I noticed that whenever I’d start noodling around on the guitar, I would picture all these guitarists in my head and think: I’m gonna play this sh*t f#©king fast…

It was about two years since I had done any serious technique practice, let alone with a metronome. Apparently, none of that mattered because I started picking faster. Way faster. This also came at a time when I began to overcome the social stigma of playing fast licks onstage. Every new band I was in gave me the experience to go further and further with my lead work. Outshine the other guitar player? Check. Keep up with the drummer while picking the keyboard solo to “Highway Star?” Check. Going for 32nd notes during a solo in an acoustic shuffle that I had absolutely no business playing? Check freakin’ mate. These things forced me to play faster but I can honestly say it all started with the visualization that it could actually be done.

I won’t delve into the metaphysical here but visualization can be a powerful tool. For the reader, the only requirement I will add to this practice is that what you visualize should be fueled by inspiration. Inspiration makes everything easier and in this case, it will have a greater impact on how you internalize and manifest the characteristics you desire.

Now, data that you can measure is certainly helpful for seeing your progress. Metronomes and bpm’s have their place but they just don’t tap a raw nerve. The key to breaking through your speed plateau is actually in your head. It’s deep down in your amygdala, screaming for attention…

Time to meet your speed-ego.

A carefully developed relationship with your inner speed racer can skyrocket you through subconscious limitations you may have imposed on yourself over years of growing up.

Numbers and other musical minutiae won’t help.

You need to get pissed.

While you’re at it, start combining synergistic behaviors. As I mentioned in a previous post entitled “Destroy Your Heroes,” you will never play exactly like your idols. This should excite you. Dig into all your little playing eccentricities and embrace your unique coolness. These things will grow with you the longer you play. Even after playing guitar for more than half my life, I continue to evolve. It’s like my fingers are constantly looking for new ways to play the damn thing. I believe that allowing myself to be comfortable in my own skin additionally helped me to tap into my speed-ego, or speego, if you will.

You can do the same. Speed doesn’t care who chooses to harness its glorious power. If you want speed then you must get out of your own way and choose it. Don’t ask for it or hope a metronome will take you the entire way. At some point, you will have to assume the mentality and identity of a guitar player who does play fast (while developing other important musical skills as well). Just like bending strings, playing fast guitar licks is just another tool that can be veiled, or unleashed, at your disposal.

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Below is a lick that changed the course of my lead playing forever. It’s Paul Gilbert’s famous “outside picking” triplet lick on the top two strings from his first Intense Rock video. Try it out but remember, playing it with attitude will increase its benefits twofold.

d = down stroke                                                                                                                   u = up stroke

    d   u   d   u   d   u
E|--------------12-----------|
B|--12--13--15------15--13---| repeat in a loop

Jante’s Law And What It Means For Your Music Career

This crab don't give a sh*t (be like this crab!)

This crab don’t give a sh*t (be like this crab!)

Jante’s Law is defined as a pattern of group behavior that discourages any person’s individual success and achievement within a community. The law can be broken down into ten rules:

  1.  Don’t think you’re anything special
  2. Don’t think you’re as good as us
  3. Don’t think you’re smarter than us
  4. Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than us
  5. Don’t think you know more than us
  6. Don’t think you are more important than us
  7. Don’t think you are good at anything
  8. Don’t laugh at us
  9. Don’t think anyone cares about you
  10. Don’t think you can teach us anything

Oh and there’s also this cheery unwritten one:

11. Don’t think there aren’t a few things we know about you

I definitely know some people who follow these rules to a T. Do you?

Whether or not they even realize it, many folks subscribe to this philosophy in usually one of two ways: They have either developed a fear of rising above their peers and consequently being cut down or they are just a jealous prick.

If you haven’t already noticed, this fear-based mentality crops up a lot in local music scenes everywhere. A jaded old-timer rambles off why the music industry is a trap to an enthusiastic newcomer who didn’t ask for his opinion. “It’s all about the money,” he wheezes. Hmmm…

Tell me one industry that isn’t about the money or one industry that isn’t corrupt. If you’re looking for a place you can do work that every single person will love and want to pay you for out of total fairness, you’re on the wrong planet.

These “well-meaning” characters also seem to be the ones complaining about the down economy, job security, music these days, kids these days and well, you get the point. They are emotional vampires and will suck every last bit of life out of anyone who sticks around long enough to hear about their crappy life. If you get only one thing from this post, let it be this: you need to sweep that garbage to the curb.

What a lot of folks don’t realize is that there are many ways to make a living in the music biz, no matter how big or small. You can find a whole community of professional musicians especially in popular US music industry cities like Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville. They wear many “hats” when it comes to making a living as a guitarist, bassist, drummer, etc. Since they are actually the ones in the industry, wouldn’t it make sense to ask them for advice?

We’ve all heard the stories of bands and artists getting ripped off by their record company or dropped three weeks after they’re signed. These are the stories that permeate our culture and scare us into thinking we should stick with a “safe” or respectable career and do music on the side. Hey, don’t get me wrong—some folks have different aspirations outside of music and that’s cool. What isn’t cool is people’s propensity for giving me advice on why a career in music is unrealistic.

But hey, that’s people. If anything, their efforts to discourage or criticize me are boring and predictable. Actually, it seems like the only way to achieve success anywhere involves others getting in their shot at you while you continue to put out new music, play shows or even write a blog entry.

It’s like a bucket of crabs: if one crab tries to escape, the other crabs pull it back down. That’s called crab mentality but it’s not just reserved for crabs as you can witness almost every other day. When you encounter Jante’s Law, or Janteloven (its Scandinavian translation), realize that the only reason others are trying to bring you down is because you are already above them.

Janteloven is simply a set of rules that others expect you to follow. And screw that. It’s time to create your own “Musicloven,” a set of rules that you subscribe to in your musical journey. Try these:

  1. I am special
  2. I am as good as anybody else
  3. I am smarter than others think I am
  4. I am going to do better than expected of me
  5. I know more than others think I do
  6. I am the only person who can do exactly what I do
  7. I am good at what I do
  8. I can laugh at my own mistakes
  9. Others do want me to succeed
  10. Others can learn something from me (and I from them)
  11. I will surprise others

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So where do you stand in all this? Are you proactive in building a foundation for a career in music and have your own Musicloven rule to add below?

Or are you pulling everyone back down with you?