Monday was my second day working as RA at the National Guitar Workshop in Los Angeles. I've been taking notes on my experiences so I can post it all here.
Jody Fisher's Class
I was on errand duty for the first half of the day, so I got to make copies and run the office instead of sitting in on classes. In the afternoon, I took advantage of some time off to join Jody Fisher's class on building repertoire. He's got a nice classroom set up in a 4th-floor executive meeting room with a view of the campus. There were about eight students around the standard oval table found in all executive meeting rooms. When I walked in, I noticed a giant array of papers in stacks covering half the floor. They were handouts for the students, containing several decades of practice material. Jody spent most of the class rapidly covering the fundamentals, preparing everyone for the process of learning Real Book tunes later in the week. I was already familiar with everything he covered, with the exception of some challenging chord voicings, so I took the opportunity to observe and learn from his teaching methods. I picked up quite a few gems along the way. I'll take you through all my notes below.
The first cool tip was fretting two strings with the tip of one finger. I'd seen this technique from Eric Johnson, but not pursued it much. Jody said your calluses grow to accommodate whatever you're doing, so the tip of your finger actually gets wider as you spend more time doing this. He uses it all the time, usually playing roots and 5ths on the bottom two strings with his middle finger while the rest fret chord tones and extensions.
Apply this quote to every last thing you aspire to in life, said nonchalantly with a sly grin: "It takes longer than you'd like it to, but you'll get there if you work at it."
Jody gave out a series of handouts with chord voicings for major ii-V-Is. He went around the room and around the cycle of fourths, having each person play a certain set of ii-V-I voicings. He mentioned that two of Ted Greene's books, Chord Chemistry and Modern Chord Progressions, are phenomenal references for chord usage. I own both, but haven't worked through them yet.
I wrote down a thought of my own: everyone is self-taught. No student of music ever has their work done for them; every master had to put in their own work on the instrument, regardless of who told them what work to do. It is easy to be educated and get nowhere. The real progress always stems from genuine individual curiosity. I had a couple conversations over the week about this, and the flip side is that everyone is educated. Someone had to build the guitar, figure out how to get it to you at the cost you paid for it, etc. Someone probably showed you how to hold it, where to put your hands. Your taste in music has been influenced by every note you've ever heard, all created by other people. Everyone learns from others, whether it's in a classroom or through a record.
Here's a great tip I'd never seen. Instead of finding the appropriate scale over a chord, just find a familiar chord shape and play sequences around each note. Jody demonstrated by arpeggiating an A major barre chord shape at 5th fret using only his middle finger (not fast, just playing through the shape). Then he added three more notes on each string: a whole step above (with pinky), the original note again (with middle), and a half step below (with index). So the first four notes are A B A G# on the 6th string in 4th position. Then apply the same sequence to each note in the arpeggio. Next would be E F# E D# on the 5th string in 6th position. These are all played as eighth notes. Next would be A B A G# on the 4th string in 6th position. This trick yields a ton of wrong notes, but sounds really good because it's so firmly based on a consonant arpeggio. Jody then suggested trying this with any consonant arpeggio and any kind of sequence applied to each note; it always works. "It's like cheating." I'm really excited to get the hang of it in my own playing.
Jody mentioned "wrong note scales," used, I believe, by Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. The idea is to take a regular old scale/mode that you know well, change one note so that it's unrecognizable, and harmonize the whole thing. Then you have your very own little system of harmony from which to compose really weird stuff.
Jody has several books on the market. I don't yet own any of them, but I've looked through them, and they are some of the most-recommended jazz guitar books I've heard of. (From the cursory browsing I've done, I can tell that the organization and clarity of writing are superb.) During class, he found himself on the topic of the manuscript process for his books. He'll finish his complete draft, proofread the hell out of it, and send it to his editor, who marks it up blood-red with corrections and changes. Jody fixes everything and sends it to the publisher, who supplies poster-size printouts of every page for the final, detailed proofread. Jody hires a band to record the example and play-along tracks using the giant pages. Any final changes are submitted, and the book is published. Then the emails start flooding in. "On page 54, the second example should end with a Cmaj7 chord, not C7." Jody keeps track of all these changes and submits a correction-copy to the publisher for the next printing. He said usually everything is fixed by the fourth or fifth edition.
The class went through the minor ii-V-i in the same manner as the major previously. Specific example voicings were given on handouts and played by the students. Jody pointed out my favorite thing about melodic minor harmony, without putting it specifically in that context: any m7b5 chord can function as a m69 chord with a different root, a 9 chord with a different root, or (also a 7#5b9 chord with a different root, but he didn't mention that). This is important because the iim7b5 chord usually causes problems for improvisors, but it can be approached in any of these other ways as well.
Homework for the next day: memorize and recite all 12 major triads, through the cycle of fourths, in under 12 seconds. C E G, F A C, Bb D F, Eb G Bb, Ab C Eb, Db F Ab, Gb Bb Db, B D# F#, E G# B, A C# E, D F# A, G B D. The accidentals can really twist your tongue, but I think I'm getting close.
Second Faculty Concert
In the evening, the second faculty concert was given, starting with classical and acoustic pieces from Martha Masters and David Ellis. Cameron Peace blew me away again with more amazing blues/rock playing. Nate Jarrell, assistant director and my classmate for the last year, played an awesome rendition of "Bemsha Swing." Drum instructor Toby Ahrens had a group play some of his own music. Adrian Galysh played a couple sweet originals to backing tracks. (He's also running for California state senate.) Bass instructors Todd Johnson and Baba Elefante performed a Gershwin tune (I forgot which one, maybe "Someone to Watch over Me"), "Round Midnight," and "All the Things You Are," all unaccompanied. They were phenomenal. Fellow San Diegan Nick Tocco performed a couple jazz tunes. I loved his tone, not the classic sound at all, but not overdriven either. Nice sweet spot. Neal Nagaoko, major shred champion, was last to perform, melting faces with epic diminished arpeggios.
After the concert, the RAs attended the "Mandatory Faculty/Staff Meeting" in shifts. As I noted that night on my Twitter page, I discovered that Powder Keg wine is actually better than the name implies, and that Jack Daniels is better than usual after three glasses of Powder Keg. I spent most of the time nerding out on guitar stuff with Nick and Adrian.