Day 5 at the National Guitar Workshop was Thursday, July 15. (See Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.)

Jody Fisher's Class

First thing in the morning, I sat in on Jody Fisher's class again. As I've done for the previous four NGW summaries, I'll spew my notes below.

When I walked in, he was talking about Pat Martino's clinic on the previous day. He brought up an important point. Most advanced guitarists will say they don't view the neck in sections or positions, but rather one giant matrix all at once. But what we rarely hear is that they didn't always see it that way. As beginners, we see the fretboard as one big landscape to explore. This relates to Martino's suggestion to approach the guitar with a child's curiosity. As we progress, we have to chop up the neck into positions or regions in order to learn it. These borders eventually dissolve, and we see one big picture again.

Jody told a quick guitar anecdote, which I've regrettably forgotten, but the punch line was "I'll tell you where to put your fingers."

By studying songs, we learn lots of well-crafted melodies.

Here's a crazy suggestion for improving your time and swing feel. Choose some music with a rhythmic feel you'd like to internalize: Basie or Blakey or whatever rhythm section catches your fancy. Play it loud in your home when no one's around, turn out the lights, and dance. Go nuts and get the pulse in your body. I haven't tried this yet, but it sounds pretty fun.

Jody took the class through the daily exercises he'd introduced earlier in the week. He called the first "maximum pressure," in which you hold your first finger on the first fret, sixth string, as hard as you can without compromising your hand technique. Hold it for several seconds, then switch to second finger, third finger, fourth finger. Continue through all six strings, move up a fret, repeat. Continue up the fretboard as far as you like. My fingers felt pretty good when we finished, like little hammers ready to bop notes on the head. The second exercise was for the right hand and was quite simple: two minutes of tremolo picking as fast as you can (again, without compromising your technique) on each string. Vary the dynamics. These exercises are part of a 30-Day Guitar Workout Jody has put together.

He chooses to play without his wedding ring, as it gets in the way. He used to take it off on stage right before playing, then realized how bad that must look.

Jody spoke at length on fingernail maintenance. I've never played with nails and don't intend to, but I found the discussion fascinating nonetheless. He detailed an involved routine of files, sandpaper, buffers, and glass files, as well as repair procedures with super glue and ping pong balls. Then he described a really cool protip. Buy some emory paper from a hardware store, and fold it over one string at a time. Pluck the emory-enveloped string 100 times with whichever finger(s) you'd use on that string. You end up with perfectly-formed nails custom-gauged to your strings.

If you're getting lost in a song's form, count when you have to. But only count until you can feel it. Then forget about the counting. If you have to count, you're lost.

Jody took the class through the chords, melody, and improvising approach on a harmonically simplified chart for "Bye Bye Blackbird." He played the chords while each person in the room played two choruses. His suggestion to jazz newcomers was to reduce all improvisation to the changing key centers. "Bye Bye Blackbird" has only a few: F major, G minor, and a few passing chords. We repeated the process with "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," which only uses C minor and Eb major. Jody had the students improvising only on C harmonic minor and Eb major, watching out for two bars of C7 in the bridge. I think this is a great way to get people started improvising, even if this isn't compatible with more advanced lines. It's easier for a player to change his approach later than to take on more than he can handle as a beginner.

Jody ended the morning's session with a packet of licks over common progressions. He had the class memorize a couple of them, and he talked about the utility of having a bank of licks available. He made an analogy to language that I've heard many times: you learn letters first, then you pay less attention to them as you learn words and phrases in chunks. In the same manner, licks function as a common vocabulary from which a player can effortlessly draw without thinking about the individual notes.

Paul Gilbert Clinic

In the afternoon, we closed down the NGW office again for Paul Gilbert's clinic. Upon arriving, he had delivered a packet of his thoughts and drawings for the clinic, produced post-midnight the night before. I recall taking the packet to the copy center and realizing it wasn't a copy, but handwritten in fresh pencil.

Paul's first topic was rhythmic versus non-rhythmic playing. Most playing is rhythmic, showing a strong connection to the pulse of the song. He demonstrated a few non-rhythmic applications in blues and rock solo settings, playing loosely, behind the beat, or frantically, fitting in as many notes as possible. He mentioned that during his time on the G3 tour with Satriani and Vai, he realized that more rhythmic soloing tended to cut through when they where all simultaneously wanking on their three-way finales. Good tip.

Transcribe drums. "It's a great way to steal without being caught." He demonstrated by assigning notes to a famous Bonham fill.

He played a few bluesy numbers and a Rush tune with NGW faculty members Blake Colie and Baba Elefante. Then he brought out a pair of congas to demonstrate a cool concept. He talked about his early years when he and his friends, possibly influenced by DiMeola, were strictly picking every note they played in order to get the loudest sound possible. Paul realized that playing some notes legato would allow the less-frequent articulated notes to be picked even harder. Translating this concept to the congas, he showed that trying to hit every beat prevented his hands from getting very high. If instead he skipped a few beats, creating a stuttered eighth-note rhythm, he had time at certain moments to bring his hands all the way over his head before slamming down. This holds true with picking, as the extra bit of time your left hand takes for a hammer-on or pull-off provides your right hand with an opportunity for a minature wind-up before picking the next note harder than you normally could. He played a simple pentatonic lick, first picking every note, then using the same rhythm he had created on the congas, filling the unpicked spaces with legato notes. I normally don't like sprinkling non-slide legato around my playing but this sounded awfully convincing, and had more varied dynamics, so I've been trying to get the technique under my fingers.

After playing a Muddy Waters tune, Paul talked about keeping the rhythm in your body. He used a Keith Richards riff to make his point. You wouldn't bob your head to that riff with each chord hit, stiffening up for the shorter hits and syncopations. You'd bob to the beat. "The wheel of rhythm is always spinning." One must think of how one would look while dancing with a girl. You'd look good while dancing to the beat, but like a goofball if you coordinated your moves with a syncopated rhythm.

Paul and the band played the Doors' "Light My Fire." Paul duplicated the crazy keyboard part note for note. I noticed that all three players were watching each other at every moment possible. I don't think the others had ever played with Paul before rehearsal a few hours prior, but their dynamic shifts were very well coordinated, as were most of the song transitions and endings throughout the clinic. I was impressed.

Another quick tip between songs: strum and hold a chord while reaching with your right hand behind your left hand to bend one of the notes up to a new chord tone.

The aforementioned "rhythmic playing" is much easier to develop with other people. "Music is social!"

A young kid asked a question: "Are you a shredder guitarist or just a rock guitarist?" Paul was stumped and thought he might go see a therapist about that one.

Someone else asked a question about writing songs. Paul first mentioned that some people find it very easy to write songs. Adopting a British accent, "Ay, I just woke up and I've got this song in me head. Yesterday . . . (strums chord) Oh, it's the greatest song in the world." The rest of us have a harder time and just need to steal things. Like transcribing drums, Paul suggests stealing things that won't get you caught. If you think a song has a really great tempo, go ahead and steal that tempo. The point is to have some kind of launch pad for your original ideas. And whenever you're stumped, go find another little idea to steal, alter, and make your own.

"Shostakovich's fifth symphony is the most metal piece ever written."

Paul closed out his clinic with a tune for the youngsters: Pat Travers's "Snortin' Whiskey and Drinkin' Cocaine."