Practicing without your instrument is more useful that you might think. When, I have down time at my job, or have to sit on a plane for 12 hours without access to my instrument, I like to read theory books and sight read. The next time I pick up my guitar, there is usually a noticeable result.

I think the best example of this was a problem I had with my time keeping. I used to get a lot of flack at jam sessions from friend Eddie Landsberg. He said, “The greatest sin is to drop the rhythm.” This was a bit of a shock, since I never gave it any thought before. He recommended tapping my foot when I play, and of course using metronomes. These both helped, but I think what really did it was walking in tempo and snapping my fingers while listening to my iPod between train stations. Eventually Eddie complimented me on the improvement, and now I can catch HIM (or anybody) dropping the tempo or playing behind the beat. More importantly, I can change my tempo or orientation to the beat at will.

Recently, I’m focusing on sight reading. Considering I that I can read Japanese, reading music really should’t be a problem. It’s acknowledged that reading a staff for the guitar is challenging for any guitarist because of redundant notes or “false fingerings.” Ironically, I realized that reading rhythms was my weakest area. So I’m approaching it scientifically. In one measure, I am exploring all the different possibilites of quarter notes, eight notes, 16ths, etc. This is so that I can find patters that I don’t recognize and might cause me to stall. What I noticed it is also doing is improving my phrasing tremenously. Specifically I mean that I have a much more lucid picture of where to start a phrase and where to place the notes when I’m playing.

I’ve probably spent more time trying to read bebop heads like Donna Lee or Confirmation than anything else. One tune I had a really tought time sight reading was Au Privave. So I compared each measure to all the others. Not surprisingly the note placement is VERY logical, but doesn’t
sound musical until can hear the phrase across the bar. So in the end, it’s not about how well you can read the score, but how well you can HEAR it. The real challenge is not just to trigger your fingers to hit the notes on the page like a machine, but to articulate it to sound like music.


Loathing Sundays is a hangup I’ve had since I was small, but the local session at Black Saint saved Sunday for me last night. Before heading out, I made successfully made oyako-don for dinner which allowed me to abandon my family for to go play music without the usual guilt. The weather was milder, so the ride there and back was pleasant, too (I can’t wait for spring!)

The cable I used was a bit unreliable, but I brought a spare which I almost forgot to use. I’ve been waiting to call Speak Low and Donna Lee for months, and finally got to play them both. The latter was seen as something of a challenge to a young, and nerdy sax player who can REALLY blow, but this was probably helped him to accept my invitation to practice together. He lives around the corner from me, and apparently practices in karaoke booths. That’s what I need to do if I want to sound as good as he does.

Even being cock-blocked by some old man when I was chatting up the only girl in the place wasn’t irritating to because he turned out to work for Jump Comics as an international sales person. From him I learned that it costs about $50 to color one page of manga, and that they’re planning to distribute it on iPhones. Anyway, I found out where the girl works and can pursue that anytime.

The only low point of the evening was this couple who are trying to get me to give their daughter English and guitar lessons. I could use some extra cash which is why I have indulged them up to this point. Teaching guitar would be cool, but I can’t stand teaching English to kids besides my own and last night was a reminder why. They brought their daughter along to a dark, smoky jazz club and tried to force her to speak English to some strange, hairy guy (me) and the girl has never studied A WORD! Despite my best efforts, the poor girl was so nervous she deliberately avoided eye contact on her way out. There should be a law against weird people having kids. I’d certainly be better off ( if not in jail.)

Some pages fell out of a 3-ring binder full of guitar lessons today. About 10 years ago, I decided to try a mail order correspondence course called Guitar College. Back then I thought the audio lectures were sometimes corny and unprofessional. The instructor was not very articulate, and he often to rambled along into digression. In one lesson, you could hear him shouting at his wife in the background. In another, he complained about his mouth not working after paying to have his nose fixed. Worst of all was an appeal to the value of learning bebop lines that had more than anything else had convinced me to quote the divorce agreement to get my Dad to cough up $300 to buy the lessons.

Nevertheless, the material in the binder was challenging, and I realize now what a positive effect they had on my development. There’s still some basic stuff in there that I can’t play perfectly at high tempos, like arpeggios around the cycle of fourths. Yet lessons on chord progression, theory and scale applications were very hands-on and helped me understand things like minor blues, dominant chords and tunes like Cantaloupe Island. The transcriptions in the annoying bebop-blues lesson were critical to my ability to play jazz.

Today, I went through some pages from a lesson on “Whole Tone Scales.” It’s not so hard to play a whole tone scale on the guitar because it’s constructed all whole steps, but applying them is a challenge. Some of fingerings seemed useless as scale forms, but make good finger exercise. Once I actually use this stuff to make music though, I am able to really create the value in the lesson for myself. The lesson also had a bunch of augmented chord voicings that are not part of my vocabulary. 10 years ago they probably sounded terrible, but on the GB-10 they sound great.

The music industry has been stealing from musicians since its inception. Yet, the act of recording music should be regarded as stealing music if the performers don’t own those recordings. A business person (or lawyer) can argue that musicians get paid in exchange for the rights to those recordings, however when a contract cheats a composer out of the rights to royalties for their work, this is stealing. If record companies are to make an argument that downloading music is stealing, then the definition of stealing needs to be re-examined. When computer users, particularly college students refer to downloading music, they call it “sharing.”

Perhaps it is better to use the word “cheating.” since it effectively gives listeners a chance to preview an album before buying it. This is how I have always regarded downloads. When I find something I really like, I buy it. This is partly to support the artist, even though more than 90% of my purchase is going to the retailer and record company. Also because the music sounds better on CD or vinyl than it would in watered-down MP3 format or even “lossless” quality compression encoding, I would still buy music I downloaded (not stole!) However, if the music sucks than should I have to buy it? Have you heard of a record store that will refund your money if the music is crap?

I can probably count the number of times I’ve been cheated by a record company who sells me 10 songs so I can listen to two good ones. However, no one can count all the brilliant and creative music that have never been recorded, released or properly distributed by record companies who would rather produce soulless music with mass appeal than challenging music. Record companies would rather give you what they want you to listen to than what people really want to hear. That’s why sales are down — not because of downloads.

My understanding of “stealing” is to take something away that belongs to someone else. What if I already have owned a copy of something, and want to download it out of convenience. This happens often as I live abroad and don’t have access to my collection of CD, vinyl and tapes. I’m already paying the communications provider for the covenience of internet access. On top of that, why should I have to pay a record vendor for the convenience of downloading when someone who shares my taste is willing to “lend” me his copy digitally?

What record companies call stealing is really denied opportunities for sales. In other words, record companies are loosing the opportunity to make MORE money on their investment, and blaming it on P2P networks, rather than their own inability to make marketable products and exploit channels for distributing it.

By the end of Friday’s rehearsal, my effects chain had been reduced from four to two stompboxes because my wah became microphonic, and the Behringer Amp Modeler just sounded like crap with GB10. I guess that the pickups are too hot to get a clean sound out of it, even on the lowest setting. The guitar sounds complex and agressive enough that I don’t need a box like that to add additional color and dirt (which means that I should probably get some more new pickups for my G&L Legacy. )

However, I DO need to either fix my wah, or get a new one. Replacing the switch and pot will be a start. I’ve been intending to do that for years anyway, and I’ve had this pedal for 16. Actually, the best experience I had with a wah was probably a Morley that I borrowed from a friend. Coming back to what is becoming the fundamental theme of this blog, the DESIGN is really superior so the sound should be, too.

It’s not that I didn’t have time to practice this week, but I was actually too sick! You always have to push yourself to practice though, even with a guitar as nice as my lady. Last night after shedding a bit on Donna Lee and dabbling in various shades of blues, I restrung her with D’aquisto flatwounds (11-48). The heavier strings feel better, but the low-E in this set was another dud, like the A-string in the last set I bought for my Gibson Es-125. That’s what it sounded like when you pluck it: DUD. The intonation was WAAAAAY sharp, too.

It sounded better after I swapped it for the same gauge low-E (D’addario) on the Gibson, and then went DUD on the Gibson, too. I’m not willing to accept this as a coincidence, and think this D’aquisto must have some major quality control issues. But hey, when your brand is the only one of two (the other being D’addario) sold in every music store in every mall and shopping center in the civilized world, you don’t actually need to make GOOD strings. You just need to make more to put on the shelves, right? (For alternatives, try

I already knew I didn’t like this brand. I just didn’t realize that I hated it until last night. The only reason they’re on this guitar is because a new set came with it as a gift. I’ll be replacing them with a GHS set soon. This guitar actually sounded really nice with roundwounds, so I’ll be trialing different string brands to find the brightest set of flats on the market. The only thing brighter than GHS is probably D’angelico, but these start to go out of tune after about a week. As a general rule, I would say stay away from any brand of string that begins with D-apostrophe.

I have this friend who I refer to as Toxic, partly because of his old habit of smoking expensive organisms which are remarkable for achieving photosynthesis in all sorts of conditions (e.g., a college dormitory closet.) Mainly though, the moniker comes from the toxic anger levels I achieve after certain types of interaction with him. The most recent example of this type started with a conversation in his new Audi on the way to Tokyo. He surprised me by telling me that he joined a social-network.

Years ago, I invited him to to join a Japanese social network called mixi, but he declined. We both agreed that such networks basically encourage superficial relationships, and are not necessary between real friends (as opposed to virtual friends.) So I was even more surprised when a few days later, he added me as a friend.

A day later, I get a call in the middle of writing a new tune on my GB-10, and it’s him telling me to post a message on his wall. I told him I would, and he told me to do it now, and I told him to fuck off because I was playing. It’s not uncommon for old and new friends to bug me with Pheisu-buk requests (usually applications), and I almost always ignore them. This was no exception, only that the request came first by phone and then less than 24-hours later by SMS.

My reply saying that I didn’t know how to use the Wall was a lie, but I did seriously consider doing it… until I had a closer look at his profile and saw that he included as one of his interests as “enconomy” (s.b. economics, but what he really means is business ventures and online-trading.) For education, he listed what he arrogantly refers to as “one of the top 50 schools in America.” He did actually attend that school, but never graduated. So I sent him a message explaining that if you dropped out, you DON’T have a univeristy education, and suggested he fix this fantastic phoniness. His response was to delete me from his list of friends.

If that seems extreme, that it’s more likely that he was a afraid I would post a picture of him staring down at an erection (or what looks like one) in a pair of swimming trunks. I had asked a mutual friend if he still had the photo, but he didn’t and I probably don’t either. Would I post it if I did? ABSOLUTELY! Phony people are just setting themeselves to be publicly humiliated, and the sooner it happens the better.