Day 4 at NGW was Wednesday, July 14. (See Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.)

This was the day of Pat Martino's afternoon clinic, one of the biggest attractions of the week along with Paul Gilbert's. I mentioned in Day 3 that I got to drive Mr. Martino from the airport to his hotel. Well I got to do it again, this time from the hotel to the NGW campus at Loyola Marymount. He had an old friend with him, guitarist Johnnie Valentino. Both had beautiful Italian Philadelphia accents. I could have listened to them talk all day. They asked me about my own studies, and I mentioned that I've been taking lessons with Bob Magnusson at SDSU. Pat's face lit up at Bob's name, and he spoke fondly of him. "Tell Bob Pat Martino sends his love."

As clinic time approached, we closed down the office so all the staff could attend. Pat opened by asking the audience who plays jazz, who plays blues, metal, rock, and who doesn't play guitar. Only a few didn't play guitar, but there was a wide range of backgrounds among the rest. He noted that it would be futile to focus on his chosen idiom, jazz, but that his topic was more about the overall magic of the guitar, specifically patterns within its standard tuning.

I will now purge and elaborate upon my personal notes from the clinic. If the following paragraphs don't flow very well, it's because I only noted the ideas that fascinated me rather than the stories Pat told to tie them together.

He began by talking about opposites: ascent/descent, up/down, major/minor, addition/multiplication. This would be a recurring theme, although at times loosely, throughout the presentation.

Introducing the first set of opposites, Pat showed a concept he discovered in his early years learning guitar. Start with an augmented triad, lower any of the three notes by a semitone, and you get a major triad. Similarly, raise any of the three notes by a semitone and you get a minor triad. Thus, a single augmented triad yields three different major chords and three different minor chords. He called the augmented triad the "parental form" and the derived triads the "automatic forms" with little elaboration on those terms. He continued to use the term "automatic" frequently, referring to patterns that emerge from the guitar's note layout without theoretical derivations.

He compared the note layout of the piano with that of the guitar. The piano is set up linearly, where notes are visualized in a manner of addition. The guitar is set up like a matrix, where notes are visualized in a manner of multiplication. In a stretch that almost made me snicker, he drew in his theme of opposites by noting that the symbol for addition (+) and the symbol for multiplication (x) are opposing versions of the same shape.

In a process parallel to the augmented triad derivations, Pat started with a diminished 7th chord (a symmetrical set of minor 3rds instead of major 3rds) to derive more chords. If you lower any note by a semitone, you get a dominant 7th chord. If you raise any note by a semitone, you get a half-diminished chord. I've been familiar with these derivations for a number of years, and it's always a helpful supplementary perspective, visualizing seemingly unrelated chords by their shared augmented triad or diminished 7th chord.

Most of Pat's unique perspective was built from moving his fingers around the strings like a child. He encourages players to explore the guitar's layout as a beginner might, by learning one fingering combination and trying the same thing out on different string sets, in different positions. Due to the major 3rd between the second and third strings, you'll usually end up with something different when switching string sets, a magical process over which Pat is still perpetually excited.

One of his best-known and most helpful concepts is minor simplification. He tends to convert every chord to a minor equivalent, often with a different root. He demonstrated by playing E minor ideas over an A7 blues riff.

Random insight from Les Paul: Remember seven things about your playing that affect others. Hold on to them, and develop them.

You don't practice driving a car; the machine serves you.

Pat spoke about shapes for a bit, specifically pointing out that if you arrange the 12 notes chromatically in a circle and draw lines between the open-tuned notes of the guitar, you get a pentagram, symbol of the occult. Rock on.

The first audience question was the most obvious one nagging at all of us. Has Pat tried any alternate tunings? How about in straight 4ths? In response, he re-explained much of his conceptual framework, his main point being that the magic he enjoys in the guitar's traditional tuning would be gone.

Someone asked about Pat's right hand technique. He said he never worked on it. Several dozen jaws hit the floor. He referred to his left hand as an intellectual, a graduate, while his right hand is a dropout. When he was young, he used to break strings all the time because he picked too hard. His teacher tried to get him to tone it down and pick more subtly with finesse. Pat tried. He changed his technique, but still broke strings occasionally, and he became depressed because he was trying to force himself into unnatural habits. Fortunately he changed his mind and embraced his aggressive style. Instead of adapting his playing to his equipment, he adapted his equipment to his playing. He began increasing his string gauge, up and up and up. He now uses, high to low, 16 18 26 36 48 58. More jaws hit the floor.

Another audience member asked whether Pat thinks all this theory hurts his improvisation. His response: "When I'm playing, I don't think about any of this." Silence. I expected this kind of answer, as did any teachers present, I'm sure. The rest of the room seemed utterly floored by this statement. I could almost hear their thoughts: "You just destroyed our brains with this rocket science for the last hour, and now you're saying you don't even use it when you're playing?" Pat elaborated, stressing that his approach to music is so radical because he learned most of it himself, from the ground up. He never did well in school because it interrupted his curiosity. He dropped out at 15, and ever since he reached a professional level, people have asked questions about his approach. Now he's just trying to teach and explain his own development, which came as naturally to him as more traditional concepts do to the rest of us.

Learn to communicate with other musicians. Learn all the traditional music theory you can. Learn how to read and write music all 7 clefs, transpose, etc.

Elaborating on his minor simplification approach, Pat provided a few examples. Over "Giant Steps," he found all the major 7 and dominant 7 chords uncomfortable at the required tempo. Converting the major chords to relative minor and V7 chords to iim7 chords made everything comfortable. Pat found what he's good at in each chord by replacing an unfamiliar setting with a familiar one. Pat emphasized his respect for all musicians and their unique approaches to learning their instruments, but he learned the guitar with the means he was blessed with: the minor 7 chord. Provided in the printed handouts was an annotated lead sheet with a challenging original chord progression. Every chord had a minor 7 substitute. He played through a demonstration, repeating the same minor motif over several different chord types.

At this point I suddenly realized who Pat reminded me of, in his voice, body movements, and especially his face when viewed straight on: John Turturro.

Pat showed a composing device of assigning notes to letters and using names and words to create melodies or chords. He wrote out the system he uses and played melodies for the words COLTRANE, BLUE, BEAUTIFUL, and UGLY.

One of his final and most important points was a call to get back to playing and away from homework. Learning music should not be drudgery. If you embrace your curiosity and devote your efforts to that instead of learning what someone else says you should learn, you're guaranteed to end up somewhere unique. I love this approach, but revise it a bit for myself. In the realm of my own development, playing and homework have always been the same thing. What's important is that I choose my own path. When I employ self-discipline to learn a concept or perfect a lick without getting distracted, it's because I anticipate that I'll value the results of that work. Even if I'm not whimsically exploring, and even if I'm doing the homework someone else gave me, I'm still on the path that I've chosen myself. When I want to play without limits or direction, I do it. And when I want to buckle down and work, I do it. I enjoy every moment of it as much as a child in a sandbox.

For lots more info on Pat, see this great interview at All About Jazz.

joeandpat.jpgMyself and Mr. Martino