Dojo News

After a long time of wanting to get this idea off the ground, I finally can open the doors of my Guitar Dojo!

As a self-taught guitarist, I feel I have developed a simplified and effective teaching method that uses the music the student is actually inspired by as opposed to a method book that teaches music they have no interest in. We’ll take whatever songs or style of music they want to learn, and break it down to teach all the fundamentals from beginner level to stage-ready… and then I’ll help build their rig and find them a band to play with!

It was hard for me to get around my modesty enough to realize that I might have the ability to make this work, and to put it out there.  But what was even harder was developing an approach… a style of teaching… and my only inspiration for that had to come from something I did take lessons in for many, many years… martial arts.

Some of the Kenpo instructors I’ve had in my life made very long-lasting impressions on me with their methods of teaching, and even their manner of speaking and explaining the small details.  I worked hard to emulate them when I eventually conducted lessons and classes myself… and I remembered those things when trying to develop my teaching method for the guitar, hence the marriage of guitar instruction with a little martial flavor.  Don’t worry… I’m not going to teach how to use your guitar as a weapon, although I have an instructor in Arizona that would love to do that if you choose.

I’m teaching out of my very-humble home for now, but may move to another location in the future, depending on how things go.  If you, or anyone you know is interested in learning how to play guitar, please send them my way…  Thank you!

Raven

(702) 466-6004

The Competition of Music

I wrote this article a while ago… only a few days before the untimely death of it’s primary subject, Gary Moore. As a guitarist, Gary was the single biggest influence on my playing over the last ten years, at least. Luckily, he left us with many albums and videos to enjoy and continue to be inspired by. The article remains as I wrote it… with references to him in the present-tense.                                   

 ~Raven


Music is art, not sport.  Do we argue about who’s better between Michaelangelo and Picasso?  Well, some people might, but they’re the one’s who don’t appreciate it for what it is.  Every musician has their own style, and they all utilize technique in a different way.Some players are overly technical, and that’s all it is (Yngwie and Vai clones).  Some have a great sense of feeling and melody, and combine it with super human technique (the REAL Steve Vai, Satch, Yngwie, Eddie, etc…).  Others have  awesome chops, but are known more for their sense of feeling and passion in their playing (Gary Moore, Stevie Ray), and then you have those that may not have developed face-melting licks, but play a single note like few people can (Santana, Page, Clapton, etc…).

So what do you base a competition on?  I could list many bands and musicians that I would rather listen to someone mowing their lawn… but that would only serve to offend and alienate those who do like those artists, and make me appear very closed-minded toward music.  Does it mean that I think the bands or musicians I like are better?  No… that would be arrogant.  It just means I have a different taste in music.

The recent competition at Sam Ash was based on “shredding”… a word I have always disliked, and have disliked even more that it’s often been attached to me because of a short period of my life during my 20’s when all I cared about was playing fast (the “Yngwie Effect”).  I won a similar contest put on by Guitar Center about a decade ago, and was sent to L.A. to compete in the regional finals where I performed in front of Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, and the esteemed mother of Randy, Deloris Rhoads.  There were shredders galore there, but it was won by…. an acoustic player.  He was simply more musical than the rest of us.  I feel they judged it correctly, and the right guy won.

Although the experience was fun, it was also very eye opening, and only served to solidify my belief that music is not competition.  I used to race BMX, fight in karate tournaments, still play basketball (poorly…) and am thinking about taking up frisbee golf.  If I get the itch for serious competition again, I’ll get back to one of those.  If I can get back to training like I want, I may return to tournament fighting… but when I pick up the guitar, it’s about creating something, not performing a better kata or hitting a jumpshot over a defender.

As long as two guys pick up guitars, people will try to judge who’s better.  I always hated to hear people trying to judge who’s better between Dave Murray and Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden), or Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton (Queensryche).  They’re ALL great players, and their differences in styles are what made their respective twin-guitar approaches great.  Dave and Chris are the more bluesy players, where Adrian and Michael covered the more technical solos.  Taking one of each and putting them in the same band creates a great contrast of styles, and compliments the music.  Most hard core fans of either band can tell which guitarist is soloing because of their styles, and regardless of whether it’s bluesy or shredding, it’s all great.

Gary Moore playing his Peter Green modified Les Paul

So how do you judge the talent between a blues player and a shredder?  They both required a good amount of practice … usually years.  The main difference I put between those two types of players is that one practices more on the physical abilities, and the other does most of it in his head.

The best players  really do both.  I explained to a young guitarist at my friend’s house the other night that putting a lot of time into your chops is a great thing.  You can never have too much technique… as long as you know what to do with it,  …and you know what to play, and what not to play. 

You have to put a lot of time into developing advanced technique on the guitar.  But sometimes you have to put that guitar down, and work on the music in your head.  The point of this lesson to him?  We are limited by our physical abilities.  We will always be able to think beyond what our hands can do… therefore, giving your mind a chance to think about music without the guitar in your hands is very important.  That’s where the feeling and creativity comes from, and when you come up with something in your head that you can’t do, you sit down and work it out…therefore, you progress, and you’re now playing stuff that you might not have come up with had you not put that guitar down and walked away for a little while. 

I pulled up the Gary Moore video of “Cold Day in Hell,” and had him watch it.  It’s a display of simply incredible feeling and passion on the guitar.  There are many moments showing what you can do with a single note, and stretch it over several bars… and then of course there were the signature, face-melting licks that remind you that although Gary’s niche is blues, he can shred with the best of them…. and I mean anybody.
 

Gary is also a great blues singer, and writes amazing songs.  I told this young guitarist that if he was on a desert island with a guitar and one CD, it should be a Gary Moore CD, and I stand by it.  But of course, he’s not stranded on an island, and I recommended that he listen to everybody, and learn what he can, but ultimately develop his own style and voice on the instrument.  He’s a very talented young man, and is certainly on the right track.

As for the rest of us… music is to enjoy, not to argue about who we think is better.  It’s all a matter of taste, and although I would rather listen to The Doobie Brothers than Slipknot, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the talent those musicians have, and with their legions of fans, they’re doing something right, even if it doesn’t appeal to me.  It’s the same as preferring Mozart over Bach.  Can you really argue about who’s better?

Stage Presence Personified

Kicking back at my friend Davyo’s pad, and I found a showing of Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” on VH1 Classic. I remember when that movie would tour around to movie theaters… almost like the band themselves, and people would turn out wearing ‘Zeppelin shirts and geared up like they were going to the concert.

I was about 11 or 12 years old when my friends Kirk and Erik turned me on to a this little band from England. They came over and got me to turn down my KISS records long enough to check out a song called “Stairway to Heaven.” I was an odd combination of tastes as a kid. I loved ABBA, and still do… along with Captain and Tenille, Elton John, and The Carpenters… but my walls were covered with KISS. Every inch…

My musical inspiration to pick up the guitar was Charo, along with Roy Clark (from my grandmother’s addiction to Hee Haw)… but I stood in front of the mirror pretending to be Gene Simmons… that is, when I wasn’t pretending to be George Reeve’s character of Superman (with the towel hanging low off my neck…). It might be strange to admit all that, but if changing my name four times in my life didn’t make you realize I’m a bit out of my tree, nothing will.

So it would be my friends from Chelsea Circle who gave me a well-needed shot of cool by walking over with their Sony boombox, and while hanging out in my garage, Erik dug in his pockets and pulled out one of the numerous cassettes he kept his jacket stocked with.

“Check out this song…” he said, as he pressed play… and I was immediately drawn in from the first note. As a kid taking classical guitar lessons, “Stairway to Heaven” was something I wanted to learn how to play immediately… but then it builds, and turns from a beautiful acoustic guitar piece to the most amazing guitar solo I have ever heard. The music I had a passion for playing followed the same path as I heard it for the first time.

It was a couple years later that I tagged along with Kirk, Erik, Mary, Leonard, Ricky, and a few other neighborhood kids to a showing of The Song Remains the Same. It was always shown at midnight, and it was like Led Zeppelin coming to town. I like to think I was invited, but still being a bit of a nerd (I never changed…), they probably just couldn’t get rid of me… and my dad allowed me to go.

‘Zeppelin was a new thing to me because they weren’t a common act to see on TV at the time. They were never on Sugarman’s Midnight Special, as far as I know, and seemed to shun that kind of exposure… or just didn’t get it. I also listened mostly to the “Top 40” radio at the time, KENO 1230, I think it was, on your AM dial. I only had an AM radio, so I was stuck with a couple music stations and lots of talk. If they played any ‘Zeppelin, it wasn’t until later years, and probably All of my Love, if anything.

I was a Zep fanatic by then. The KISS pictures and posters gradually gave way to pictures of Jimmy Page. I was fascinated by the stage presence of Page that the still shots were able to convey, so I was pretty amazed to see him “live,” and in-motion. Even the scene of him walking down the stairs from the plane fascinated me (which the video I posted begins with), clearing his throat as he steps onto the tarmac and cooly walks to the limo, followed by Robert Plant and tour manager, Richard Cole.

You follow them on the ride to Madison Square Garden in a police motorcade… like foreign dignitaries, or the President himself… as Page’s acoustic “Bron-Y-Aur” plays. I remember how I felt when the first song started, with John Bonham bashing out the opening drums of “Rock and Roll,” and the lights went on to reveal the band from behind the stage. I was completely lost in watching him move around the stage in his wizard outfit and dragon embroidered clothing, with his Les Paul slung much lower than I could ever play one (and I’ve tried)… and from that point on, I had to have a Les Paul. Period.

His technique during live performance is an often debated subject, but musical perfection was not what Led Zeppelin was ever about. They never played anything like it was on record, and even recorded performances, including the epic “Stairway” solo, were mostly improvised. If he made mistakes or didn’t play as clean as some others do, it didn’t matter… it was still brilliant.

Being a ‘Zeppelin die-hard is almost a brothership. Very few people I’ve met can tell you the running order of most, if not all Zep albums. I would have trouble remembering now, but was once one of those, along with Kirk and Erik. I still keep in touch with them when I can, and last time I talked to Erik… we remenisced about old times, with events punctuated by what Led Zeppelin song we tied that memory to.

My friend, Dave Hornbeck, can play just about every ‘Zeppelin song… very well. I could never resist handing him a slide whenever he picked up a guitar when we worked together at Sam Ash. I’ve never heard anybody play Jimmy Page-style slide like that… except Jimmy Page. Being a professional musician, Dave’s talent, of course, goes way beyond just playing Led Zeppelin, but it was much more than I ever learned.

So I found a video on YouTube which shows a pretty nice chunk of the movie, including the scenes I described, and shows the opening sequences of the concert that I had so much anticipation for. I say to this day, there has never been another person who looks cooler playing guitar than Jimmy Page, and no image ever had as profound an effect on me.