Review Bonus: Oz Noy’s Twisted Guitar: Blues 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 my, if this is Twisted, just keep turning that key. I’ve heard some of Oz Noy’s work before, but here in Twisted Guitar: Blues Soloing he’s keeping one foot in the traditions of blues and blues rock, and in the other going into more modern jazz dissonance, creating licks that start where fans of SRV or Albert Collins will find familiar, take a left turn that make you think you’ve careened off the rails, then land right back… as if to say “what, is something wrong?” or “I meant to do that.” And with the explanations given, yes, he totally meant to do that, and is telling you how you can, too.

The presentation is a great approach, too. Oz will show three different licks individually, usually with related approaches, developing to a complete solo composed with the licks in context; and then a followup improvised solo twisting the ideas further and just adding more Oz Noy insanity. For example: one of the tracks, Ice Man starts with a lick inspired by Albert collins in A minor Pentatonic, but then demonstrates taking it up a half step and then resolving.  The second example has a Bb7 arpeggio to step out, and the third steps outside with major triads ascending by fourths. Then you have a complete composed solo with those licks. And then an improvised one tabbed out.

Tons of tricks for the blues guitarist trying to break away from boring. I need to spend some more time with this one.

Review: Josh Smith’s Blue Highways

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

What to say about Josh Smith’s Blue Highways… Josh is a masterful player that I was not previously aware of. Once again, the meat of this masterclass is concepts, and Josh serves up many of the same things that I would give to intermediate and above students; and ones that I use on the bandstand at every opportunity and explains them very well. The fact that his (stellar) results using the same concepts are so different from mine speaks to the individuality of the blues as a genre and improvised music.

Which then leads to his examples, and then a second section where he’s improvising solos over a minor funk, shuffle, slow blues, etc. And oo-ee, his licks are worth studying and adding to your own bag.

Great explanations of musical approaches, playing “through” changes and applying the melodic minor to the blues, and great solo demonstrations. This course is definitely worth a look for advancing blues improvisors.

Reviews: Write Your First Song by Robbie Calvo and Song Factory: Birth of a Song by Ellis Paul

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

Personal note: Whoo boy, it’s been a long time since I wrote. I took a forced sabbatical from playing guitar due to carpal tunnel surgery in both hands. Technically I could have written reviews, but I feel that they are completely useless unless I have a full on “hands on” experience with them. 

Songwriting… I have done a few songs, I even have one award on my wall for doing some, but I’ve been in a creative block for quite a while. I decided to see if going back to basics can help, and if these new Truefire lessons can help.

Robbie Calvo’s Write Your First Song is the first course I should have looked at. This is the most foundational of the two. Robbie does an excellent job of covering all of the foundations by defining the absolute basics of music, some basic stylistic elements, and basic parts like verse and chorus. From there he goes into some interesting building blocks with “sweet notes” (chord tones, keeping it to C major for this course) lyric writing, etc.

If you know very little about the basic building blocks of what makes a song, but want to write them, this is an excellent starting point. Robbie has this course laid out well and explains things in an easygoing manner.

Ellis Paul’s Song Factory: Birth of a Song is much less a basic structure series, and more like a creative writing workshop and idea generator. While it does also spend some time describing some of the nuts and bolts, the real strengths of this course come from the start where he explains starting journals and setting up a space for writing, to the exercises  for each individual approach such as writing using books or movies, or starting from your instruments.

The information ON songwriting is great, the approaches should be helpful to nearly anyone getting started or getting better at the craft of songwriting. The lessons are great, Ellis seems like a great guy to meet… and (*sigh*) I really can’t stand listening to Mr. Paul’s songs. They are not at all anything I want to listen to, in fact I bounced out laughing at one point because of I story I’d heard about another great singer songwriter; Harry Chapin, writer of great songs like “Cat’s in the Cradle, “Taxi”, and even “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” (great if you listen to the live versions with the alternate endings) but… I remember hearing a story about Rolling Stone Magazine having a Harry Chapin Singer Songwriter award, for awful songwriting. This was due to a song he wrote called “Sniper” which was basically inspired by the UT Austin gunman and told from the perspective of the killer. According to the story I heard they kept this award annual until Mr. Chapin’s untimely death.

Early on, Mr. Paul gives an example of a song he wrote from the perspective of a shooter…

I threw up my hands and walked away for a bit. This is all personal taste. There are a lot of musicians I don’t particularly enjoy listening to, that I still respect their ability, success, and connection to their audience. Ellis Paul, is a fantastic teacher on the subject of songwriting, I just don’t want to listen to his songs, entirely on me. I still have a great set of songwriting exercises to work through.

Review: Jon Herington’s Ear IQ: Soloing Strategies

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

Jon Herington has been working with Donald Fagen and Steely Dan since the late 90’s on top of his own projects… so if you haven’t hard that name before, consider some of the other monsters previously working for that group. (Derringer, Carlton, Baxter, etc. etc.) What makes this course worthwhile, is that even though these are 10 different solos entirely tabbed out, and have some fantastic licks, the lessons aren’t about that; he’s presenting an idea like considering the character of the song, ending well, singing your lines, etc. by describing the situation and how he’s applying each of these approaches before playing the solo to show the result.

If you are looking for licks, though, the updated and uptempo’d solo on “Bodhisattva” for the “Flash” demonstration is… *really impressive*. But even if you don’t pick up a single lick from this course, applying the techniques discussed to your own improvisation are all useful approaches for making great solos.

Review: Henry Johnson’s Jazz Expressions

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

Oh man, this is a solid block of lessons aimed straight for what I think of as the core of jazz guitar. I did not have to know his history and reputation or look at Henry’s bio to know that he’s heavily influenced by Wes Montgomery, early George Benson, and Kenny Burrell. TrueFire’s Jazz Expressions lesson pack is an old school, master explains some of the things a jazz player needs to know approach to teaching the craft. It’s more a demonstration and playing tips than theory intensive study of jazz guitar.

That said, there is some significant theory behind what he’s demonstrating, it’s just not presented as that. The biggest example being he demonstrates how to cover the neck by what he calls Areas of Activity. The theory not discussed is he’s doing the drop 2 chord voicings in major, minor, and dominant in their four inversions, and playing melodies based on the related scale fingering in that area… he’s just not saying things like drop 2 voicing and CAGED patterns, he’s more interested in phrases and melodies.

The only thing that then suffers from this approach is that the transcriptions often stop before he gets to the more interesting ideas. I understand transcriptions are time consuming, but when Henry takes a chorus each of the areas, and the transcription stops at two choruses, there are more ideas being covered up the neck. A couple of Areas of Activity being demonstrated are being neglected this way.

Perhaps it’s better for the student to do some ear training, but there are times I wished I had the Tab.

After covering practical ideas, he then demonstrates the ideas through some jazz blues and rhythm changes examples. As a blues guy who wishes he sounds better on standards… I’m still struggling with rhythm changes. I’m still not meeting my own standards, so I’m still working on this (and a few other teachers approaches, like Cheryl Bailey’s studies, also on TrueFire.)

Overall, Henry Johnson’s Jazz Expressions is an outstanding, no nonsense approach to old school Wes style jazz guitar.

Review: Johnny Hiland’s Ten Gallon Guitar: Intros, Outros & Turnarounds

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

I will never love country music as much as Johnny Hiland, but that’s OK… I don’t think anyone can. This is only one reason why he is arguably the best country guitar player alive. His easygoing “aw shucks” delivery in teaching his material makes things entertaining while I’m swearing at my own fingers struggles trying to keep up with the music on my screen. While Ten Gallon Guitar: Intros, Outros & Turnarounds has a nice collection of licks, this is probably the best in his series so far in covering how to use them in context. Him explaining that any random singer in Nashville might jump up on the stage and suggest songs he hasn’t heard makes for a point of departure for bandstand survival in his world. The simple explanation of the Nashville number system in terms of the progression alone might be worth the price of admission. (While anyone should know what a twelve bar blues is, knowing what “14, 11, 44, 11, 45, 15” means was most illuminating for me) The lesson plan breaks down how to start, end, and make fills on ten different grooves, making for thirty great extended licks, but lots of context on how they’re used.

And even though my fingers can barely keep up with him, I still can’t keep from smiling listening to him talk with such a pure enthusiasm and joy for his subject. He makes me want to keep going, when in similar situations I might just give up in frustration. Johnny Hiland is a great teacher and a monster player. If you have any interest in country guitar at all, check out his lessons.

Review: David Wallimann’s Guitar DNA: Pentatonics

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

Ah, Pentatonics: Guitar DNA is an apt title, especially on this subject of the series. Pentatonics are easy to learn, play, and visualize on guitar and make an excellent starting point to learning improvisation for many styles of music. David Walliman is an excellent fusion player and lines up some absolutely essential concepts, getting into some advanced territory, including connecting chromatic material between the notes in the “boxes”. Even though there are some tasty licks all tabbed out, this is mostly presenting concepts, which I look at as a big plus, and overall I would recommend this both to students learning to break out of the one or two standard boxes of pentatonics, but for intermediate t advanced folks looking to apply ideas in new ways…

But I have one major complaint. (Warning: big music geek/teacher rant ahead. It’s OK to  skip down a paragraph. You have been warned.) Back when I reviewed Jeff Sheetz’s Street Theory for Guitarists, I gave him big praise for getting into the seven fundamental modes without getting into what I call “guitarists bad modal theory”, which can be especially prevalent in the way many younger jazzers teach. It causes some supreme confusion when later getting into simple concepts like jazz ii-V-Is. (“Dorian to mixolydian to…” NO! It’s a simple MAJOR SCALE chord progression.) The seven fundamental modes aren’t just the same scale with a different root, it still also has to function within the harmonic context. Teaching scales as “modes” based on what note is under your first or second finger on the sixth string of the grid is a confusing no-no both for teaching scale grids, and for teaching modal theory. It goes double for when you show which three Pentatonic grids fit into the three major and minor modes (You are not playing three separate major “modes” of pentatonics within the Ionian mode. You are fleshing out the major scale with three seperate Pentatonic scales. Hint: teach this by scale degree, not by naming modes completely out of context.) Seriously, I know there are some of you who will disagree, but this is Bad. This is B-aaayad music theory. What I find really bad is that Mr. Walliman knows modes well enough that when he does get around to jamming over them he’s using progressions that work for the correct modes (i.e. the correct context at that point) that it’s baffling he’s using out of context modes in place of naming grids or scale degrees.

Other than my major pet peeve about modal theory… if you can avoid the confusion related to that, there is a wealth of useful material here.

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: 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: 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