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.

Review: 30 Jazz Arpeggio Licks You MUST Know by Tom Dempsey

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

In a different set of jazz lessons, I heard guitarist Fareed Haque make the observation that “Modal” jazz was a departure from Bop, and yet many if not most teachers seem to go to modes to try to explain jazz improv, focusing on Bop. He then correctly points out that Charlie Parker and his contemporaries innovative approach was based primarily on arpeggio ideas.

Tom Dempsey’s 30 Arpeggio licks… goes farther than most anything else I’ve seen so far in TrueFire’s licks series, in that it starts out with a full manual of all the types of arpeggios used over the entire neck. This particular offering is also the first where going through the series in Classic view (just the video and a PDF file with the music) absolutely is better than following in SoundSlice view (with its follow the tab, autoscroll, and speed setting features; which are usually best for copping licks.) For each of the Classic view lessons, the arpeggio used in it’s location on the neck is at the top of the lesson materials, before the tablature of the actual lick.

With the grid in place at the top of the page, I would turn on the Jam Track and simply form my own ideas with that particular “grip” of notes in that area on the neck. Being able to grasp the concept instead of just copying someone else has always been my preferred route to learning improv.

The licks themselves are fairly basic overall, and stay on one static chord through the majority of the lesson. It only started hitting on ii-Vs and ii-V-Is, superimposing alternate arpeggios, and upper extensions in a few at the end. I would love a second set that expanded on these ideas and expanding from there (big hint: Second set picking up where this left off, Tom… please?)

The licks are good, but this gets extra high marks for me for going the extra distance to cover the concepts. Bravo.

30 Jazz Arpeggio Licks you MUST know on Truefire.com

Giant Steps pt 2: CD’s “Easy Trick”

Followup to Giant Steps: after I did the harmonic analysis to the Coltrane classic, famous for being difficult to improvise over I applied another concept and discovered something interesting to apply. If you saw that previous lesson, understand that this entry is doing one of the things I said was a bad idea in the earlier one, so take this with a whole shaker of salt…

A brief look at minor conversion

A quick and simplified description of minor conversion: Typically one of the first artists many people think of when using the term “minor conversion” is guitar virtuoso Pat Martino. While I find his playing dazzling, and his personal story deeply inspiring, usually the description of this concept gets into what I think is intentionally confusing: starting with interesting anomalies of diminished chords and geometric drawings, yadda, yadda.

Here is the real simplified deal with minor conversion, and I may make a more concerned effort in a later entry  🙂 but the gist is that for basically any good melody or lick… let’s keep this in C major: Anything sounding good for Cmaj7 family, sounds good for Am7. It also sounds good for D7. (ii-Vs, and therefore Amin licks work over D7) So now we know that all those Minor licks that we’ve learned can go over Maj7 or Dom7 chords if we transpose. But that’s not all: Amin also works over F#mb5 and B7#9 or flat9… basically the altered chords for a minor ii-V. Or; one lick can work for Cmaj7, Am7, D7, F#m7b5, and B7 altered chords. Major resolution, a major ii – v, and a minor ii-V.

Shifting up a fifth: Gmaj7, em7, A7, c#m7b5, and F#7(b5,#5,b9,#9) will all support a lick in e minor.

For a ii – V – I in the Key of G, a player with a lot of minor licks would play an A minor melodic idea for the first half (a min for Am7 and D7 chords) and an E minor idea for the second half (Gmaj 7, e is the relative minor to G major)

If you’re interested in going down this rabbit hole, I highly recommend working this concept with songs like Blue Bossa, Autumn Leaves, etc. before doing it with Giant Steps. That said:

CD’s Giant Steps “Trick”:

Remember on the last entry where I said “Don’t put stock in any of the ‘easy tricks'”, I’m telling you right now, up front; that’s what this is. But if you play lines using this minor conversion system (as I will do occasionally) something interesting emerges during those really hard key changes in the first half of the tune – ascending half step changes.

GiantStepsMinorConversion

Take a look at the added green text.

Bar 1 is a B major to D7. B major is relative to G# minor, and D7 converts to A minor… slide up a fret and repeat, or continue the line you were already doing (up a half step).


Bar 2. Gmaj to Bb7. Gmaj converts to E min, Bb7 to F min…

If you consider the shifts of a fifth within V-Is and ii -V – Is  as “related”, we’re still making a frightening number of key changes very quickly, many over the half bar as before, but now we’ve gone from shifting a major third to moving half steps and shifting fifths for the most part. I find this more mentally manageable than the “Giant Step” major thirds transitions. If you’re really strong with ii-V-I ideas, you probably will want to shift back to thinking of those the standard way in the second half of the song. Or you may find the minor conversion method is a great way to blow through ii -V -Is, you can consider those key shifts minor thirds instead of major thirds.

 

Review: Soul Guitar Guidebook by Jimmy Reiter

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

The past few reviews have intentionally been about areas and styles that I’m working on “back-to-basics” and skill improvement. This time around I’m taking a close look at a style I’m a little more familiar with. I like to think of Soul Guitar as the point where post-war electric blues started began melding and evolving with R&B by way of players and songs in Memphis, New Orleans, and Muscle Shoals in the 1960’s.

This is what the title says it is: a guidebook on the style. Jimmy moves quickly from some fundamentals to 8 songs that demonstrate a good menu of elements from this style. This, however, would be my primary critique; for example, the best stuff on this series is basically the last half of one lesson: covering different triad shapes for playing interesting rhythms all over the neck. In fact Jimmy starts out by saying, quite rightly, that the core of the style is rhythm more than lead, but then the song collection focuses mostly on stylistic leads, and I noticed a few students commenting on the same in the discussions. The leads and double stop melodies in the songs are tasty and essential to the style… but I also longed for the same effort to be put into showing and developing the rhythm playing.

Critique aside: Jimmy Reiter knows his soul guitar, and shows some fantastic playing well within the grasp of the intermediate level guitar player, and does a good job of explaining how to play and some of the concepts in each of the breakdown sections. As it is a “guidebook” I would highly recommend any student really interested in this style to immediately go search for the players he’s listing as inspiring each of his own tracks shown here. For example, go straight to the Meters and hear the same concepts being shown in songs like “Look Ka Py Py” or “Just Kissed My Baby”.

Soul Guitar Guidebook on truefire.com

 

Visual Learning and work in progress: Giant Steps

I don’t make any claims to be a great jazz player (I was decent at being an ensemble player in some big band rhythm sections) despite part of my focus here. My interest is part analysis, part self-improvement, and part sharing what I know.

In other words, I haven’t mastered this piece. This is a “this piece kicks my butt, just like it does most common mortals who haven’t spent years practicing and developing it.” And this is why; but it may help you, too.

There are many analyses of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps online with instructions or suggestions on how to improvise over it. Nearly every one gives some historical context or just explains that it’s a piece requiring a certain improvisational virtuosity to pull off. I’m not going to get to deep into that here, nor do I think anything I’m posting is going to be new except for this visualization I’ve done for it (I’m big on visual learning for guitar and music in general). I’m guessing either you’re familiar with the piece, and me saying “it’s a hard one” is nothing new, or you should Google it.  😉 Find the original studio version with John Coltrane. … All right, maybe this one frequently relayed bit of history:  😉  Trane had been woodshedding it for years before bringing it to the session. Pianist Tommy Flanagan, depending on who is telling the story, was either looking at it “cold” or only had a day or two to look at the piece. OK, now find Tommy’s 1982 trio recording of it. Even with master players, this is a piece that requires practice.

The only other thing I’ll say of many of the other online lessons is 1) don’t put stock in any of the “easy tricks” or what have you; you’re usually just learning a gimmick that will only sound good for a chorus, and may risk making you look worse than usual if you get lost (because you’ll need foundational knowledge of any song if you get lost while soloing. “One easy trick” does not help you on a piece this difficult) 2) I’ve found some analyses that, for whatever reason, show the key centers changing at the bar-line only, which you can “sorta” get away with (good jazz improv definitely does not relying on lining the melodic ideas directly over the changes, for example anticipating the next change melodically) but may just be some folks survival or coping method for the fast changes (Which leans into “trick”, to my way of thinking)

Analysis: I think the best simplified way to look at the piece also shows why it’s hair-tearing maddening to play. The changes are lightening fast, but there’s only three key centers: B major, G major, and Eb Major. The two problems there is that the key never stays put for longer than two bars at any given point in the piece (did I mention it’s usually done very fast) and each time it is up or down a major third… which if you’re used to up or down the circle of fifths modulations, this can easily grind mental gears. (Plus, if you miss a modulation on a circle of fifths, you have technically one bad note you can “fudge” and correct if you’re just floating around. Modulating a major third, you only have three common scale tones. You have to know where, or the harmony will expose you)  The modulations that occur in the middle of the bars in the first half of this piece, making one and a half bar, or one bar over the bar-line V-I and ii-V-Is also go against my previous instincts, even at slow tempos.

My thought for visualization: B – Red, G – Yellow, Eb – Blue.

Giant Steps AnalysisEach of these are just straight V – I or ii – V – I progressions in those three keys. Again, the difficulty comes in the frequent “giant step” modulations and the speed of the piece.

Addendum: Visual learning guitar grid for the major scales using the same color coordination: Red = B Major, Yellow = G Major, Blue = Eb Major.

B-G-Fb