Review: Robbie Calvo’s Double Stop Chops

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Let’s talk double stops, those little two note jabs or lines on the guitar. Many guitarists get get tied up in single note melodic lines, and chordal playing and overlook this essential technique. In Double Stop Chops Robbie Calvo covers all the essentials Major and Minor thirds and sixths, fourths, octaves; and then lets you wet your toes into some r&b and blues toward the end. One critique: Robbie is a Nashville cat and most of the examples (including the r7b and blues) sound like modern country. The good news is that he spends a lot of time on concepts and encourages the student to wrap their head and fingers around them to make their own sounds.

This subject and set of lessons may not be as flashy as other offerings, but it is a great approach to teaching an essential and often neglected guitar technique. I use double stops all over my contemporary blues, rock, and even zydeco shows currently. This is good stuff, bravo Robbie Calvo.


Review – Angus Clark’s Essentials: Neoclassical Rock Soloing

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Oh wow, duuuude! …OK, flashback over. If you were a teen guitarist in the 80’s and into hard rock guitar playing, you kind of fell into two camps. Eddie Van Halen or Ynwie Malmsteen. Yes there were many others, but basically these were the two biggest influencers of the rest of the heroes from that era.

I’ll just say that one of my first rock albums was Van Halen 1984.

So I wasn’t in the Yngwie camp starting out, but later as my playing improved, I wanted to see how I could incorporate more of the classical influence into my playing. Back then there was an explosion of advancement in teaching guitar via tab transcription and lessons. The problem back when I had the jones to listen to and learn this “Neo-classical” metal style of guitar leads there were two flavors of instruction. Absolute rudimentary type stuff, or the straight transcriptions of the virtuosity and instruction videos of spider permed gents doing the “I am a Scandinavian God and you suck” approach of more is more at 300 beats per second. If you were already gifted with lightning fast hands, you might pick up a lick or two.

If there was anything in between, I never really found it.

These days I’m much more into Blues and Jazz/Blues in approach to the instrument, but I’m blown away by this collection of lessons from Angus Clark. They are listenable, definitely representative of the style, and just challenging enough for an intermediate level player not familiar with the style to push to reach the goal without giving up in frustration. Some of these are pretty quick, but not so blazing and unachievable as the classes I remember from the days of VHS.

And even though my tastes have changed, this was a great bit of nostalgia, and a better grip on a few more sick tricks to add in the tool box for when I am playing in a harder rock context. Wish I’d seen a set of lessons like this back in the mid to late 80’s. Bravo!

Essentials:Neoclassical Rock – Lessons on TrueFire

Review: Sheryl Bailey’s Essentials: Bebop Blues Etudes

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Oh my! Sheryl Bailey is both a master of bop guitar and a stellar teacher, and this is a great package of lessons. First off, I love the format: Sheryl takes a collection of changes from essential bop blues tunes and standards (Summertime, Blues for Alice, Watermelon Man, Billie’s Bounce, All Blues, Confirmation, West Coast Blues, etc.) and does a model solo as an etude for each of the tunes. What really impressed me was that each etude found a sweet spot of not being too difficult to play, but “sounded like jazz”; they are all great licks and lines. (most jazz lessons I’ve encountered fall short in one of those ways or the other, most frequently being finger twisters that frustrate… and as a pro for decades, I realize there will be some difficulty in learning new styles, but I frequently find ones that just make me want to quit in frustration. No worries here!)

Each lesson features a play-through of the etude, and then an in depth breakdown of the licks and concepts.  Most are single note, melodic development off of the original head. But, I found the introductory lesson contained some chordal approaches that were new to me, hip, and easy enough to comprehend and implement on the bandstand right away. This to me is the gold standard of any book, video, or lesson series purchase. Just give me something cool that I will be happy to add to my “trick bag.” There are a few points where I’d hoped Sheryl would get more in depth about some more difficult ideas (Thinking in particular about how she came up with choices for, say, chromatic ii-Vs on Parker blues… and more specifically how I could make my own) That said, what she does cover, she does very well and shows the joy of sharing discoveries to her students.

If you are interested in bop, jazz guitar, and the jazzier side of blues playing, unless you are already well versed in this particular niche, this is an excellent collection of lessons that I would highly recommend.


Review: TrueFire – Jeff McErlain’s Essentials: Advanced Blues Rhythm

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Around my local blues scene, I’ve been mostly a trio guitarist gig-wise for the past two years, but some of what I think my biggest strengths as a player come from comping behind other soloists or singers. I like to pride myself as a strong rhythm player in my genre. So this recent release from TrueFire educator Jeff McErlaine, Essentials: Advanced Blues Rhythm was right in my wheelhouse and I offered a review.

I’ve held off publishing these thoughts; I’ve been grateful to TrueFire for letting me freely sample their wares in exchange for reviews, but I don’t know the extent of critiques or editorializing I can get away with…

Don’t get me wrong, like all of the video lesson series, this is well presented and useful, and Jeff McErlaine is a master instructor. My thoughts for what i thought the title would be. “Essential blues rhythm?” A bit on the blues-rock more than blues, but ultimately yes, essential. “Advanced?” (*me sucking breath through my teeth*)

This does go one step farther than most blues rhythm courses, in that it demonstrates how to develop a rhythmic idea over the course of a few choruses, rather than chug the same rhythmic idea over and over until someone ends a song. This does that admirably. I was just hoping fo some more advance ideas and concepts over, say, a shuffle, rhumba, boogaloo, r&b groove, etc. The basic elements of the riff box shuffle, or the “Pride and Joy” derived shuffle grooves presented seemed rather simplistic and rock oriented, for example.

There were some nice ideas presented, all were essential to the genre overall. I just would have loved to have seen, say,  some substitution or tritone ideas presented over a slow blues, or how to plug in Hendrix/Dupree style flourishes on an R&B, etc.

Do get this if you’ve learned a bunch of rhythms, but you just stick to one over an entire song: developing parts on the fly is an absolute essential. If you already have an idea how to keep your comping fresh on the bandstand but looking for more ideas; you may or may not find new ground on this offering.



Review: TrueFire – Jeff Scheetz’s Street Theory for Guitarists

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Many times listening to beginners trying to advance you’ll hear comments like “I wish I understood music theory” as if it’s something exotic or a fix-all to understanding and writing music, or improvising. Or sometimes you’ll hear a player describe it as a stumbling block, or unnecessary for making music that’s “real”. I tell students it’s neither one, but it is extremely helpful to either communicate with other musicians and to understand how things work, which not just coincidentally gives you a better understanding of what you may be playing and/or creating.

Jeff Scheetz’s Street Theory for Guitarists does that superbly for guitarists of all ability levels. Even if you’re a beginner that can’t yet play the examples, you should still be able to learn the concepts. Jeff is a relaxed, easy-going, and confident instructor and the videos have some nice touches including attention grabbing pop-up text summarizing important points (similar to the “for Dummies” or variation instruction books, some more jaded or intellectual people might find them cheesy, but they are a great way to highlight and memorize the best of the information) Jeff breaks the videos into four sections in a thoughtful way, and etc of the concepts are presented in a natural progression, leading up to working the ideas using the popular CAGED system for guitarists.

I have to commend Jeff especially on nailing one concept that I’ve seen so many other guitar and jazz instructors presenting “practical” or “street” theory veer into bad theory: he nails the presentation of the 7 fundamental modes by understanding it’s not just the scale, but the progression that defines modal playing.

If you are a guitarist, and have no understanding of theory. I would highly recommend this series of videos. If you are like most guitarists and know a few points of theory, this can fill in most of everything that you need to understand about theory as a guitar player. If you studied theory in college and can apply what you learned already… there’s nothing here to see. If you learned theory in a traditional manner, but didn’t get applying it to your instrument, this will be rudimentary theory-wise but should apply lots of idea lightbulbs and a-ha moments.

I’ve seen a lot of “street theory”, “guitar theory” or “practical theory” books, articles, and videos out there over decades as a player and private teacher. This is probably the best I’ve seen, and almost certainly the best presentation. Bravo Jeff Sheetz.

Review: Chris Buono’s 60 Electric Guitar Techniques You MUST Know

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

First thing; I have to admit I just popped into the lessons without looking at the introduction and seeing what this was meant to cover… and I was baffled. Chris Buono’s work that I’d previously seen on Truefire was his various Guitar Gym series which take one technical area of study and makes an entire video out of gradually improving on that technique.

I took the… well it borders on a “click-bait” title and took that as its intention: “60 Electric Guitar Techniques You MUST Know.” It starts by covering all the expressive techniques that any guitar player should know… but was only giving one solid example of each. Getting into the later bits, I didn’t see how, say, an archtop jazzer would view whammy tricks, or a tele-picking country player would view wha-wha pedal manipulation as an essential technique. Forget needing the extra equipment. How many people outside of 80’s hair bands and Stanley Jordan view finger tapping as essential?

That wasn’t what this is. The intro says the original title was the much less “sexy” but much more accurate “The Electric Guitar Technique & Notation Handbook” and for that, this collection of lessons is perfect. For anyone who has read guitar notation and tablature, this series shows how each looks on paper and gives a solid demonstration of how to do it and what it should sound like.

This is an essential pack as an overview for reading notation and tablature for guitar for a beginner to intermediate player not familiar with all of the terms and techniques and can serve as a discovery and jumping off point for a player looking to learn or improve a specific technique. (I need to improve my vibrato, develop sweep picking, why can’t I bend that string, etc.) One example, intended to demonstrate more than teach, won’t be enough, but knowing the particular thing to work on can help you find additional instruction and exercises. (For example, Chris Buono’s Guitar Gym… Oh, I see whut u did thar…)

60 Electric Guitar Techniques You MUST Know

Minor conversion, simplified.

In a previous lesson I did a minor conversion analysis of the jazz standard “Giant Steps” as an alternate approach to improving on the notoriously difficult tune. Usually, references to the minor conversion approach will direct you to guitarist Pat Martino, whose lesson materials will typically start with showing interesting relationships between diminished and dominant chords, shows a lot of triangle and star shaped drawings, and then starts demonstrating insanely fast chromatic lines to play.

(One might suspect things are being made intentionally difficult…)

I’ve seen this hit on in other places since, but the first simple and logical explanation of minor conversion that I saw was in a book I bought 25 years ago: Jazz Guitar Lines by Lucky Elden, which I’m happy to see is still in print. It also has several more chromatic Pat Martino inspired licks in it, many that I still use today (Much to the confused looks of the other electric blues players I’ve worked with… but that’s another story)

But here’s the breakdown: Use your ears, but just about any lick that sounds good in A minor (Q: What, CD…? A natural minor? A harmonic? Jazz minor? A: Generally… yes!) will sound good in C major (its relative major); it should also sound good for D dominant (this is a standard ii – V jazz improvisors trick. Long ii – V – I, you can do two short ones on the long ii – V and they work, or half a long idea over a short ii – V.) Finally it also works on the chords for a minor ii – V, down a minor third: F#min7b5 and the various flavors of B7 altered (b9,#9, etc.)

In other words: An A minor lick should work with all of these chords; Amin7, Cmaj7, D7, F#7b5, and B7alt.
Major ii -V, relative major, and minor ii – V down an minor third.

A good lick or motif can now be plugged in over a major, a minor, a dominant, a half diminished 7, or an altered dominant.
Let’s analyze a standard ii – V – I in C using this system. Dm7… start your lick in Dmin. G7… you can still continue in Dm. Cmaj7… shift to an Amin idea. Repeated frequently is let your ear be the guide. If it sounds good, it is. If it doesn’t I often find one note in the line or a different resolving note usually cleans up the idea… or I drop it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the most interesting stuff using this approach is the chromatic zippy lines similar to… Pat Martino. But I have used this with arpeggios and pentatonic scales with interesting results.

Please forgive the dry, text only, example free entry. If I find a free moment and don’t get distracted, I’ll expand a bit in a second entry.