Category How and What I Learned Essays

Intro Guitar Technique and Advanced Guitar and Performance Techniques

“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

~ Michelangelo

This essay will define how and what I learned to master introductory guitar techniques as well as advanced level guitar and performance techniques through formal and informal learning commensurate with first-rate college level education as exemplified in courses at Oberlin College, The Berklee College of Music, and The New School For Jazz and Contemporary Music. I have been playing guitar for 47 years (39 years professionally) and I have a deep knowledge of my instrument.

References to harmony, theory, composition and improvisation are occasionally made to underscore how I learned guitar and performance techniques. However, other essays address “Harmony and Theory” and “Composition and Structured Improvisation”. It is not my objective to address those subjects in this essay.

Some of the ways in which I learned guitar and performance techniques include: enculturation, formal instruction from private teachers and schools, rote learning, dialogues with musicians, imitation through observed behavior, self-education cross referenced tangentially from other interests like film and dance, multimedia learning that incorporates both visual and audio components, the informal learning of interaction with other musicians, on the job learning, and combinations of the above.

Technical mastery is an essential component of virtuosic performance, but musical proficiency is not predicated solely on technique. Although it is imperative for the evolving guitarist to develop a synchronicity between the movements of the right and left hands, musical expression of emotion is essential. As Pablo Casals said, “Every note must sing” (Blum 1980:2).

With my first guitar teacher, an experienced professional musician, Vincent Pattaglia, I learned correct posture, how to hold a guitar, how to hold a pick between my thumb and index finger, how to perform from the elbow without an anchored wrist, how to maintain consistent time with ...

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Western Music History From Antiquity Through The 18th Century

Picasso's Beatles

“The real question is not where do ideas come from but where do they go.”

 ~ From “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

Learning about music history is a great way for musicians to become informed.  For a long time I was deeply informed by the music of saxophonist John Coltrane.  I was so captivated with his music, sound and conceptual developments that I learned a lot of his music while I searched out all available information on him.  I was deeply immersed in this study for about fifteen years.  Furthermore, I studied with his former teacher, Dennis Sandole.  Sandole would occasionally mention composers for me to investigate and I always learned a lot by taking his advice.  On the internet, I am fascinated when I read essays about Trane online.  This one by Lewis Porter outlines the influence of American composer Morton Gould on John Coltrane’s composition”Impressions”.  Trane’s first recording of Impressions dates to his 1961 engagement at the Village Vanguard.  We learn that “Coltrane’s source for the main theme of Impressions is the second theme of Pavanne, which is part of (Gould’s) longer work, American Symphonette No. 2”, which was premiered in 1939.   In this way, Coltrane renews history and imbues an older composition with new sensibilities.   I’d like to note that Ahmad Jamal’s 1955 cover of  Pavanne may have been the first time that Trane heard the piece.  I wonder if Jamal has been asked if Coltrane ever spoke with him about Pavanne.

The study of music history brings about an awareness of other perspectives such as structural functionalism, ethnoscience and linguistic theories, paradigmatic structuralism, Marxism, literary and dramaturgical theories, cognitive and communication theories, performance theory, feminism, phenomenology, historical research, postmodernism, post colonial theory, and semiotics.

Within this essay one may perceive multiple overlapping theoretical orientations, and each theory is not totally exclusive of one another...

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Music Theory And Harmony

Pierre Boulez composing at his desk.

Pierre Boulez

“In principle all instruction should be based on historical evolution;

there should be no obligation to make a specialized study of musicology,

but a knowledge of texts of the past, recent or remote, should form a foundation”

~ Pierre Boulez (Nattiez 1985: 119)

This essay will define how and what I learned to master a solid foundation in music theory and harmony through formal and informal learning commensurate with first-rate college level education as exemplified in courses at Columbia University, Harvard University, Oberlin College and Berklee College of Music. Much of the information I have learned about music theory and harmony is demonstrated in my compositions, 15 CD’s and performance history. Additionally, what I learned about species counterpoint will be covered in this essay.  Although references to guitar technique, performance and composition are occasionally made to underscore how I learned music theory and harmony, a future essay will  address “Advanced Guitar and Performance Technique” and the essay “Musical Composition and Structured Improvisation” was published here four weeks ago. Therefore, it is not my objective to address those subjects in this essay.

Supporting documents (SD) and endnotes, which further clarify and substantiate theory and harmony scholarship, are not included but will be supplied upon request. I have been learning and engaged with music harmony and music theory for over 30 years and I have a deep knowledge of these subjects. I learned music theory and harmony in a variety of formal environments including one-on-one private instruction and in classroom situations. Using Alfred’s Basic Guitar Method I learned many music theory fundamentals with my first guitar instructor, Vincent Pattaglia, including staff notation, rhythmic notation, pitch, tuning systems, tetrachords, scales and chords.[i] Later, in private instruction with retired professional guitarist Joe Yurko, I wrote out intervals, scales and harmonization of major and minor scales in every key...

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Musical Composition And Structured Improvisation

Robert Crumb - Record Collector

Robert Crumb – Record Collector

Growing up as a guitarist, I learned a lot about music from records.  By the time I was twelve I learned how to slow down a record and pick out the guitar and bass parts.  I’d learn the chord progressions, riffs and solos from records and recordings.  Later on I collected  jazz records to hear the musical interaction and learn more songs.  My friends often did the same thing and recordings influenced how we performed.  However, learning from records and other musicians isn’t the only way I learned about music composition and improvisation.  The following essay is the first in a series under the “How and What I Learned” heading.  Originally written in early 2012, I tried to keep this essay as concise as possible.  Further reference on specific subjects may be found in the extensive “End Notes” which are used to more fully elucidate subjects.  Of my own work which is mentioned in this paper, many of the CD’s and some of the scores are available in the BLOG STORE.  A variety of supporting documents (SD) are mentioned in this essay and although they are not published here, they are available upon request.  Many composers and musicians are referenced in this essay.  If you are unfamiliar with someone, do yourself a favor and check them out.  There are so many fine musicians/composers out there.  I’m the type of musician who likes many forms of expression and so I am influenced by many sounds from many time periods.  For me, this is essential to be a creative 21st century composer and improvisor.

Musical Composition And Structured Improvisation – How and What I Learned

“Whenever music takes on the task of expression, it develops new technical means.”

~ H. H. Stuckenschmidt

This essay defines how and what I learned to develop a solid foundation in musical composition and structured improvisation and my incorporation of these techniques into recorded works...

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