Dan Kanter and JB



Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 12.13.19 AM“What Do You Mean” Acoustic Guitar Tutorial

When I set out to do a guitar tutorial on the Justin Bieber (acoustic version) hit, “What Do You Mean?”Dan Kanter Acoustic Version I had no idea how important that innocuous, deceptive, but irresistible guitar accompaniment would become to me and many others. It truly woke up a whole nation of guitar players to the “coolness” of the acoustic guitar in a pop/hip hop setting. The song would be to so many a “slap back to reality” of sorts to the guitar community of the expressive and colorful possibilities of an acoustic guitar and a voice.

Before you accuse me of leaving out countless other guitar vocal duos, Tuck and Patti Tuck & Patti surely come to mind first, none of them were at their peak during a communication revolution. With information moving faster than we can keep up with,  Dan’s guitar playing on the acoustic “What Do You Mean?” has single-handedly sparked a very big interest in taking the guitar more seriously.

Maybe, just maybe, this has demonstrated that it can be cool to play three, four, maybe a rare five chords and make them groove. Not only that, but when played by a bassist, pianist, guitarist, composer, arranger, music director, producer, current holder of a New York University music degree, and a future York University YorkU Master’s Degree in Musicology YorkU Musicology Program graduate, you see that the word guitarist can now carry much more weight that it has in the past.  

One thing is sure, in a world of incessant musical delivery it’s refreshing to see someone come along and stir up some of us who had become rather comfortable. Keep it up Dan and thanks for the infusion of relevance into the world of the guitar.

Musical Rebels: Change Agents

Young_Bach2Okay boys and girls, I have a question for you…

I posed a question to my artist guitar class the day of their final exam. The make-up of this class is typically 11th and 12th graders who have been involved in musical performance and study (at varying levels) for upwards of 5 years.

Some of the students have a very high knowledge of music aesthetics, theory, and stage performance. However, that doesn’t always correlate with describing music in a way that is understandable or relevant to a larger, more global view that I was looking for. Sometimes, those with less formal knowledge have a way of giving a more “listener/observer” viewpoint that is more in line with the general public’s viewpoint.

My question to them was:

“Do you think that the musicians who made the most impact on music throughout history were rebels?”

A few disagreed. So, like a good teacher I went on to describe what was really a random idea that came to me. I started with Johann Sebastian Bach and went up to Kurt Cobain . These ideas are, of course, entirely subjective and I’m sure I left many out. But, it is a great topic for discussion and does get music students thinking about making a few waves on their way to fulfilling their own personal goals in musical performance.

Young_Bach2Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – The use of 7th chords was a bold move by anyone in the 17th century let alone a hard-working church musician/composer from Germany. But J.S. Bach was not to be ruled by anyone. He used 7th harmony to the extreme and boldly set forth a harmonic language that to this day remains head’s above the rest. Moments of jazz and rock spring forth that sound surprisingly fresh and modern. The most astonishing part of Bach’s music was his movement through keys. Like a magician he treated keys as pawns pushing them to their breaking point and finally releasing them allowing them to return home exhausted and spent. Music to J.S. Bach was like child’s play and done so effortlessly that one would have to be a court reporter to keep up with the rules and traditions he shattered.

Brandenburg Concertos

J.S. Bach Biography

WA Mozart – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart started out in the classical style composing his first symphony at age 8 (rebel enough for you?). That he was surrounded by his                    fMozartather a composer, and his sister a fine musician and pianist, mattered not. He was the most genius of all musical geniuses.  Mozart was not recognized during his lifetime for the powerhouse he was, however by the time he composed his 40th symphony he was headed for music that would surely change the landscape of the art. Had he lived long enough he would have changed music more than Bach himself. But unfortunately, bad health and unhealthy living caught up with him and cut short the most brilliant musical mind in history.

Symphony No. 40

Ludwig Van Beethoven – Was there ever a composer so revered, so influential, so respected, and so feared? No. Beethoven bridged the gap between the classical and romantic periods and by the time he wrote his Late String Quartets (the most incredible four-part musical excursions ever conceived) he had leveled all remnants of the “safe and orderly”Anne-Worbes-Beethoven-small classical system. Even today, his ideas still reverberate among us as Beethoven’s  life of defiance, drama, and duty still inspire and motivate. We can be comforted in the knowledge that the status quo can be broken, broken by an unorganized genius. Beethoven lived in disorder and chaos as family situations drained no little time from his music. His composing style mirrored his personality. Where Mozart could and would copy music from his head down onto paper with barely an alteration, Beethoven would labor over a section of music for days until he was satisfied. But, never once think that these quirks of personality took one bit of creativity from this ultimate master. Ludwig Van Beethoven set out to change music, to rebel, and that he did. Lesson learned? Yes. Musical sameness can be altered by a brave young genius who cares not what others think or say.

String Quartet No.14 in C sharp minor, Op.131

Claude Dubussy (1862-1918) – By far the most boldly defiant and rebellious composer who ever lived, Claude Debussy unashamedly set forth to dismantle what he saw as uncreative. He despised the method of hanging on to music of the past with its formulaic banality. He was not popular with his music professors and challenged them at every turn. His music was bold and new and this was not met with approval from either his peers or his elders. In and interview, Debussy set forth hidebussys mission statement clearly: “I myself love music passionately; and because 1 love it, 1 try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it. It is a free art, gushing forth, an open air art, an art boundless as the elements, the wind and the sky. It must never be shut in and become an academic art.” He set forth to change the harmonic language of music and surely put a dent in it. Jazz musicians owe him a debt of gratitude for giving them a new way to stack chordal  and melodic tones. Thank you King of Rebels.

My Favorite by far: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn.

Another one of my favorites by Debussy: The Sunken Cathedral.

Robert_JohnsonRobert Johnson  – Nasty, down and dirty; raw and uninhibited, this man, Robert Johnson, would infuse his music with freedom, emotion, and pain and create a legend that will never die. He lived and played like a rebel and without him the blues would never have remained true to its core, an expressive and artistic sonic carrier of feelings and ideas that would change the very nature of music at its foundation. His guitar and vocals were complex and groundbreaking. Never did a blues artist carry such a message, a message of despair and pain that described the lives of blacks living in the south. His music, his blues, was deep going beyond what anyone had ever even conceived before. Robert Johnson, like many other famous musicians (Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain) would only live to the age of 27. Johnson’s lifestyle would catch up with him as he was poisoned by a jealous boyfriend just as he was being discovered as a genuine and groundbreaking artist. But in his short lifetime Robert Johnson revolutionized blues guitar and the music that he loved and lived so deeply.

Robert Johnson Biography


Charley Parker – Has a musician ever improvised like him? Has anyone ever had such a devastating improvisational delivery? It’s almost beyond belief when you realize just how far he took scales and chords. He could improvise on a C major chord all afternoon aWellDressedBird-Hilond completely shake that chord to its very foundation. His downfall, of course would be drugs and a slight mental illness that would plague him constantly. However, there was no more fearsome improviser than Charley Parker.


“I’ve Got Rhythm”

Elvis Presley – Say what you will, this man change popular music forever. His legend will never die. He would take video performanceelvis and open the doors for everyone who followed. The King had his faults, but the cult of personality that remains around his memory is astounding. One of the most astonishingly moving performances would be one of his last. There can be no doubt that he single-handedly started a revolution and groundbreaking performances are golden still.

“Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”

“Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
Jimi Hendrix – The man who made the electric guitar sing, literally. Jimi had a language and purpose behind the sounds he made. To him, the guitar was just a vehicle for the ideas that were inside him. I sometimes wonder, as I think he did too, that he was from another world. In the ejimihnd Jimi took the electric guitar and totally dismantled it from the inside out opening the way for thousands and thousands of players who still use his groundbreaking sonic experimentations as a foundational part of their expression. The legacy of Jimi Hendrix will always be mixed as there is no escaping the spectre of drugs and excess. However, Hendrix was a soft-spoken and gentle soul who unfortunately became immersed in stardom; too many “friends” (who did nothing but distract him); and the music business itself, which proved once again that it can build up, use, and throw away its own.
“Castles Made of Sand”

“All Along the Watchtower”

Kurt Cobain – Kurt rescued rock music from guitar excess. The 80’s produced a never ending line up of players who played more notes than needed, posed more than necessary. They mkurt-cobain-kurt-cobain_1600x1200_98251ade the electric guitar a musical machine full of repeating gymnastics and blurry thirty-second notes with not one bit of soul or heart in any of them. Kurt took the guitar and brought it to its knees, not with technical proficiency, but with emotion, power, drama, and just plain good song writing. But his contribution would also be to expose the rebellious dark side of
us all. The alternative revolution was not happy music but music that lived on the edge of depression. Kurt Cobain’s unfortunate end will always remind us that the tortured artist syndrome is real.

“In Bloom”

“All Apologies (Live MTV Unplugged)”

After some thought on this subject ask yourself this question, “Who are the musical rebels of today?”  Can’t think of any? Well, maybe music is too watered down and safe and we are waiting.


The Rise of Female Guitarists

   Ladies, it’s good to have you. The guitar breathes a collective sigh of relief!
The accgggtompanying song is a dedication of sorts to the increasing amount of female guitar players new to the scene. It’s one of the great movements in the world of music performance, education, and recording. Maybe it’s because I’ve taught guitar in public school for 12 years that I am able to see this first hard. With this increased interest, involvement, and desire to play guitar from females the music scene has and will continue to change. It has to right? How can the status quo be maintained when the literal face of guitar playing is becoming more gender friendly?

I’ve always been interested in this movement as myself, and the rest of the guitar staff in the Loudoun County Public School System http://lcps.org touch many lives. The program is understandably vibrant and appealing to many students. We are able to take in many young people who don’t quite fit into the traditional music classes of marching/concert band and choir classes.  I fell very fortunate to be in an area of the United States where s a major guitar program for students from seventh to twelfth grade exists. That has had a direct impact on the Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. area where I work. There are countless examples of students (at least 40% of them female) contributing to the music culture of the this multi-racial and wealthy areas. To give you an idea of the impact this has consider that over the last twelve years I’ve taught and directed around 2,000 guitar/music students. When you realize that they are now out in the world in locations from here to anywhere, you begin to see the impact of that this could be having as the years progress. It’s a female equality victory of sorts without a cause, or, for that matter, a fight. It just happened.

Add to all this the “Taylor Swift” syndrome http://taylorswift.com/ (not negative at all) and you wake up to the reality Girl Guitarthat music will never be the same once the full impact begins to manifest itself. Miss Swift has influenced countless young girls to pick up the guitar and play (no pun intended Who fans). But, not just to play, but to sing also. She is a powerhouse in so many ways. Say what you will you naysayers, Taylor Swift will go down in music history as one of the most powerful women in the business, and rightly so.

But, I digress. Of course, the question inevitably comes up, that is, what do females do on guitar that differs from a the male approach? Do they play softer? With more feeling? With more emotion? Oh God, did I say that? Luckily, these tendencies are not limited to female players as these qualities can also be true with males. Not all males approach the instrument like a possession to be lorded over. Moreover, not all women play the guitar softly and tenderly. So the discussion of differences becomes, in a sense, muted.

Whatever the differences are, there is no doubt that the gender difference does produce two differing approaches to the “vision” of and approach to the instrument. If men and women see the world in apinkggtr way that differs from each other than that will translate to other areas of life and art.

Finally, let me state that if there is one area that is a definite hurdle for some women, it is hand size. That is a topic that I am currently researching. I will have some preliminary results for you very soon.

As for the issue at large, keep the girls coming. The guitar was sorely in need of a female overhaul and damn if we don’t have one right at our front door!

http://www.thecreativeguitar.com/new-original-song-new-spring-new-direction/Screenshot 2015-04-20 14.40.35

The Teaching of Improvisation (Introduction)

Another blog post on the teaching of improvisation? Yes. When you consider that we all come from differing backgrounds, training, instruction, and preferences. Mix all of this together and you begin to see how complex it can get. Instructors come to the teaching of improvisation with a set of skills that have been honed through gigging, practice, and study. The study of scales, modes, and chords end up in our mental and physical tool kit and we call upon them when we improvise and when we teach students to do it themselves.

Without question, there have been, and still are, great improvisers in all genres who have had little or no formal training in music in any way but can improvise freely and masterfully. Remember that these musicians have the gift of “hearing” and can play what they hear on their instruments with ease.

For most the best wagply to learn or improve on improvisational skills is to do it every day. There is no substitute for good old-fashioned woodshedding. The amount of material available today is staggering. So, we should see a great resurgence in improvising and a rise in its popularity right?

Getting students to practice improvising is not easy as it throws them into the “unknown”. This is the land that few dare to travel to especially in the early stages of awkwardness on the guitar. Once self-assuredness and confidence build up, prsflameskill development in improvisation can blossom.

We will look at the unlimited amount of help that is available with the explosion of music software that is at everyone’s fingertips. Most importantly,  approaches must be taken to get students to actively “practice” improvisation on their own. Music, and the guitar need to be an active part of the student’s life at home and with his or her circle of friends and family.
In the upcoming posts I will call upon my teaching and playing experience to dissect a methodology that works as a global template of sorts. This template must, and should, be fluid and adaptable meeting the varied (sometimes severly) learning styles of each student you instruct.