Pink Floyd‘s tech-heavy composition, “Welcome to the Machine” was always way ahead of its time. It brooding and searching and minor-based sonic pallet always took some getting used to, at least for me. But, after covering the song, I discovered the incredible melodic motifs contained within.
You would be hard-pressed to find a musician as dedicated to his craft than Carlos Santana. You would be even more challenged to find a musician who believes more in the power of music. For him, music is about meaning, healing energy, and the ability of it to bring out our supreme spirit of self reflection and internal power.
We live our lives at breakneck speeds. We run to and fro, surrounded by the din of technology and its voices calling us to enter its vapid world of commercial overindulgence. It’s up to the individual to look in the mirror and say, “Stop!” Realize, or finally admit that it’s impossible to take in all the information that comes at us. My plea to you is to take a few moments and slow down. Slow down and focus on the voices that are there to offer you true peace and calm. Take Carlos Santana, I wonder if we even realize the treasure we have in this man, his music, and his mission? Santana and his music has always been there, not intruding, but waiting to be discovered.
Consider this: He has been involved in the music scene years before his stunning performance at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. That performance introduced the world to this future icon who blended, intentionally or not a complex amalgamation of Latin Rock, Blues, Jazz, and World Music. He single-handedly brought to the mainstream the first multi-genre based musical collaboration, one that is curiously becoming the norm in pop music today some fifty years later! From his childhood in Mexico, where he began playing the violin, to his early jam days in San Francisco, with his Santana Blues Band, he had his sights on creating something new.
To show how delicate the edge of fate can be let’s look at the day that Santana and his bands music almost died. The Woodstock festival was run by a four-member committee who were all in their 20’s. They were not prepared for the onslaught of humanity that were marching towards the tiny upstate town of Bethel, New York, about 70 miles from Woodstock. Due to suffocating traffic, critical food shortages, and schedule delays, the almost destroyed what was to come for the band. Santana, and his band were scheduled to go on stage late in the first day. But, they were told to go on long before they were ready. They were rushed onto the stage and to their protests were given a “now or never” ultimatum.
There was a minor problem though. Santana and the band were given LSD backstage and were assured that they had plenty of time to “come down” from the high before performing. But, as luck would have it, they were “peaking” at the very time they received the order to go on. With no alternative, they went on. Santana himself admits that during the performance he was hanging on for dear life. According to him, his guitar neck begin to look like “an electric snake” moving back and forth. He pleaded to God that he could keep it together until the end of the set. It seems that God was forgiving to the man who was destined to contribute to music’s ever-evolving greatness. Certainly, Santana’s philosophy of the ‘divine energy’ of music was birthed on the stage that day.
Santana’s call to the masses to become illuminated with the majesty of music is one that is inspiring and uplifting. Coming from a man who seems to have witnessed the grace of God in real time, gives validity to his words. His crossroads moment was one that would continue onward as he has never wavered. However you look at it, he, and the band, made it through this almost catastrophic episode of colossal misjudgement.
Looking back, the Woodstock incident may have been Carlos Santana’s moment of clarity. His deal with God, to save him from himself and the LSD, certainly put him on the path to greatness. If anything, Carlos Santana is more emboldened to continue his mission and does so with passion. He has certainly done more for music than any other musician in memory. Humble, giving, and self-effacing, the man is what all musicians should aspire to be but aren’t. A man whose nature is to use music as his way to communicate the good in us is part of his DNA.
My cover of Carlos Santana’s beautiful “El Farol” from the 1999 album, “Supernatural”.
One of Queen’s most unique compositions, “Love of my Life” encompasses all aspects of Freddie Mercury’s writing style. Mixed with Brian May’s angular guitar lines, which are perfectly weaved into Mercury’s complex musical twists of phrase, the magic of Queen becomes clear.
Thier music is not, and never has been, typical of the rock genre. It’s one thing to be progressive, but the music of Queen was a step ahead of that. It’s as though the two men, along with bassist, John Deacon and drummer/vocalist, Roger Taylor, challenged each other to reach for a higher musical consciousness. This divergent and inventive quartet ruled over the musical landscape of their time leading to the ultimate in musical creativity and longevity.
I chose to feature this excerpt as it contains my favorite Queen-isms. Multi-layered harmonies, excruciatingly beautiful vocal and guitar tones, and an emotional depth of feeling still unmatched by anyone since. May’s ability to place his guitar lines in just the right place without overdoing them is quite remarkable. If that was all he was a master of, he would still go down of one of the greats of all time. But, lest we forget his most enduring legacy, his tone. Yes, that soaring and irresistible tone. I didn’t dare attempt to replicate it exactly as that would have been blasphemous, not to mention time consuming. I did the best I could to capture the aura of the man’s genius.
The phrasing, the tonal colors, and the execution, are breathtaking. No shredding needed when you can create such melodic gems. Why waste excessive note wrangling when you can paint the world with sounds such as these?
Without question, the team of Freddie Mercury and Brian May rank right up there with the best of all time.
What were they thinking? A pop song starting out with an intentionally messy acoustic guitar riff? And of all bands to do it? Maroon 5? Well, as soon as you have pop music figured out the wackiness of the genre outflanks you. But, this is an unusually fun riff to play it’s well worth the effort you put it to learn it.
Solving this unusual, but clever guitar part will depend on your alternate picking skill. While not played at supersonic speed, it will nevertheless be challenging if you have not developed a fair amount of speed with your pick. Add to that that unusual amount of “string noise” and you begin to see that this is not your everyday guitar riff so common in these days of everything must sound perfect in pop.
Take your time with this one and it will come. I have given about one minute of how to play the chords to this one. I am not a big fan of making songs easy to play as I feel it leads to complacently for those who need to put more effort and time into their playing.
There’s not a song that Dan Kanter can’t make a thousand times more interesting on the guitar. There’s not a hit he can’t decode and apply to the acoustic guitar in ways that make you shake your head. And finally, there’s not a synthesizer riff that he can’t manipulates into a smooth melodic stream of consciousness that doesn’t make you surrender and say, “Man, I wish I could come up with riffs like that!”
This is a long overdue tutorial on my part. Many have asked for it and finally, I’ve begun the process. I share with you here the introduction (a full 14 measures long) and the first verse (another 8) of Justin Bieber’s “I’ll Show You” Live in Toronto (2015).
I’ve worked on many of Dan’s arrangements of songs from not only Justin, but from the smoldering and talented, Julia Michaels. So ya, I feel I have a grip (admittedly a loose one) on Kanter’s very intelligent and always surprising guitar style.
For the first 5 minutes, standard tuning was doable. But, the awkwardness of the fingerings and the string noise put and end to that experiment. Within minutes the “Dan is up to it again” light went on in my brain. It was then that the guitar sounded open and the fingerings were smooth, but regimented.
Finally, I figured out that the second string was also tuned up one-have step, to of course, C. It took another two minutes to see that something was up with string 4. Well, looking at Dan’s hand position wasn’t easy as the camera was not friendly to him in this video. I did catch a glimpse of his second finger on the 4th string’s 2nd fret. It was then that I discovered that Dan had tuned string 4 up one-half step to Eb(D#). What a solution he had come up with to totally make the part ring out!
You will only need your fourth, third, and second strings for this section. Use the thumb, index, middle “claw fingering” with your right hand.
Learning to perform acoustic versions of songs is much easier when it’s the artist who has performed it. It settles all arguments and for sure gives you the correct fingerings and chord voicing if you are unsure.
Of course, you had to figure that Bruno Mars played guitar. A musician of his stature has learned many things most of us never see out of pure necessity. More importantly, Bruno Mars is not just an entertainer, he is much more than that. He is a very wise musician who knows how to cultivate success. He knows how to write material with a groove unmatched in its groove factor more than anyone else in the last forty years.
But, there’s another angle, dare I say formula, which Bruno knows well. Surround yourself with top-flight musicians who are flawless in execution and navigating the stage. Choose also musician’s who share your mind-set. Don’t grasp for musical mechanics who can play your music backwards and forwards, chose the ones who take the gig because they belong there.
Learning “Nothing On You” is a great way to get back the the foundation of a song. To see it’s parts in an unfiltered environment and to play like Bruno.
Less definitely is more when you are trying to get a message into a song. The less clutter instrumentally, the less business in the harmonies and sections the better. It enables the vocal part to stand out and brings every nuance to the forefront. On “Depression and Obsession” by the late Alternative, Hard Rock, Nu-Metal, Rap, and Hip-Hop-influenced artist, XXXTENTACION (Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy), this is certainly the case.
Take a somewhat rough acoustic guitar part, mix it with a tight beat and let the vocals do the rest. I’ve gone to great lengths to make this tutorial as close as possible to the original. This is not an “Easy Guitar” version, which serves collect views and deceives many to believe that anyone can strum along captured the vibe of a song that is far deeper than they could ever imagine. No, this version shows the rough edges and the way to play it with expression.
You will use only three chords throughout this song. But, in these three chords be prepared to dig deep if you want to bring life into this magnificent, minimalistic expression of darkness and pain.
PERFORMANCE NOTES: I’ve decided to use Drop-D tuning for this version. The reason is that I hear the lowered sixth string ringing out in two specific places. It makes the chords slightly more difficult to play but, I feel that to be authentic in replicating other’s songs, you should attempt to get as close as possible. The only chord that may take more work is the GMaj7. For that chord try to land your pinky first. It will take slow practice but, that chord shape comes up a lot in an Am/G context in many songs.