Start Early, Bloom Late

 

Play The Changes With One Scale

I didn't drink coffee for about twenty-five years. Well, with the exception of two weeks in Italy when I drank espresso every afternoon, because after eating truck stop pasta and drinking red wine from a pitcher, it was the best way to stay awake and enjoy the buzz. And you want to feel alert while going 150 kilometers an hour down the autostrada with a sixty-something-year-old folk singer behind the wheel, getting you to the next hopefully-not-cancelled gig.

I had my reasons for this insane, self-imposed abstention. The last time I drank coffee on any regular basis, I had a job proofreading numbers for one of the big bond-rating companies in downtown Manhattan. Every afternoon, I would go down to the deli for a 16-ounce coffee and a ten-dollar muffin, and by three pm I would be so wired, I spent the rest of one afternoon folding reports into paper airplanes and trying to land them in the airshaft of the Woolworth building.

My supervisor was not amused,...

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Pots and Practice

creativity Feb 06, 2019

I pretty much quit performing when my kids were born. I didn't stop doing music, I just did nearly all of it in a less-than-300-square-foot room in a commercial building a few blocks east of downtown Austin. I was writing music for other people, so between that demanding most of my creative energy, and having no particular outlet for performing, there didn't seem to be any great pressing cause to write any new songs of my own. But then, when my kids got to be around 3 and 4, my buddy George hipped me to something he had just discovered called February Album Writing Month, or FAWM. FAWM is an online songwriting challenge with a very simple premise – sign up, create a profile, then write and upload fourteen new songs between February 1 and February 28. That averages out to a song every other day for four weeks – theoretically, you  aim for 14.5 songs during a leap year, har har har.

That's a pretty rapid clip, for sure, but I was hooked from the very first morning,...

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Under The Bodhi Tree

 

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I always thought the phrase "Once more to the Bodhi Tree" was some official Buddhist quote, but a quick search, at least, does not reveal this to be so. What I know about Buddhism fits easily into a thimble, one already filled nine-tenths of the way with sand, so no screaming if I get this wrong, but essentially, the Bodhi Tree is the one under which the Buddha meditated until achieving enlightenment. So around Casa Fretboard, with its population, at last census, of not one but two adult humans constantly navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of art and commerce, the phrase "Once more to the Bodhi Tree" is shorthand for "yeah, I knew this truth [don't read the news after 10pm / don't wait for external validation / don't get into a land war in Asia] but I clearly need to learn it again." Once more to the Bodhi Tree. Or, if there are no kids around, "Once more to the f**king Bodhi Tree," accompanied by much stomping of feet and...

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Book And Wing Dance

recommended reading Jan 16, 2019

My old friend Paul dropped me a line this past week to ask about books on fingerstyle blues guitar. It seems he's got a student who's worked her way through all of my Fingerstyle Guitar Method book and is looking for what to do next. I wrote back with a handful of opinionated recommendations, realizing by the end of my message that this topic might be of more general interest as well. Although I use the phrase "general interest" advisedly. I played a show on Saturday night with a couple of songwriter friends of mine at Threadgill's here in Austin and after the show someone was nice enough to mention that she had been enjoying receiving my weekly emails. By her own description, she's more of a fan than a musician, so she tends to focus on the verbal buck and wing dance and just skim the guitar nerdery. Which is ok with me – it's an honor just to be nominated, and if someone's who's not even totally hung up on how to the play the guitar wants to know what I have to say, I...

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The Davis-Travis Home Improvement Project

It being the first post of the new year, I suppose I ought to be talking about practicing resolutions, or guitar playing goals, or something like that. In theory, I'm certainly a fan of the reboot, the dramatic plan, the epic self-styled makeover, or at least, I have been in the past. But this year I'm going for a blurry, indirect approach, rounding the corner into 2019 at a saunter so casual Casey At The Bat could take my correspondence course in arrogant nonchalance. Since mid-December I've been mulling over what the new year might bring, but it's already January 7th and I'm still pecking fitfully at my laptop from the kitchen counter, pretending I'm getting actual work done in between games of Magic The Gathering, taking out yet another bag of recycling and perfecting my new recipe for homemade ramen.

That said, I do have a new guitar playing project afoot, one that began coalescing a few weeks back. I'm pretty fired up about it, and yet I'm trying to keep it kind of soft-focus...

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Jazz Odyssey

hard bop blues licks Dec 21, 2018

On some level, last week's post about saxophone giants Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane represented the antithesis of everything I imagine Fretboard Confidential to stand for. That is, it's been a long journey from baffled and insecure jazz student to Suave And Worldly Roots Musician About Town – a journey one could easily argue is still just leaving the ticket office, about to stumble over a trunk or two en route to the departure platform. Obligatory self-deprecations aside, one of my main aims in this educational racket is to demystify the idea of playing the changes, and to do so by focusing specifically on how jazz musicians approach the blues form. That specific, narrow focus is what finally enabled me to begin coming to grips with all that lies beyond the pentatonic scale, and the last thing I want to do is upend the unspoken promise of my little corner of the internet by whiplashing from Tiny Grimes to Ornette Coleman in the space of a week.

That said, close listening...

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D-Mocracy: Fingerstyle Blues in Dropped-D Tuning

Having presented a chorus of the blues in A recently (The Ninth Degree), I thought I'd offer up a chorus with some of my favorite fingerstyle blues moves for dropped-D tuning. "D-Mocracy" is a twelve-bar alternating-thumb blues combining basic open-position licks with some up-the-neck, string-crossing moves for both the D7 (at the end of line 1) and G7 (in bars 6 and 10). There's also a cool inversion move for the G7 in bar 5 and a quick V-to-I move at the end of bar 6. Check out the tab below, and the audio as well, to get the whole picture.

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Statuesque

Uncategorized Oct 22, 2018

It's raining like crazy in Austin today, and rumor was they intended to open the floodgates at Mansfield Dam, above Town Lake, which is what everyone here calls the not-really-a-lake formed by damming the Colorado River as it winds through town. Actually, its official name is Lady Bird Lake, because – get this – while Lady Bird Johnson was still alive she refused to allow the city to rename the lake after her. So naturally, after she passed away they did so anyway, simultaneously honoring Ms. Johnson and completely disrepecting her stated wishes in equal measure. At any rate, there is also a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan perched along one of the trails that circumnavigates the lake, and I heard today first that the water was up to Stevie's waist, and next, that some wag had taken the time to put a life vest on the statue. Turns out the whole up-to-his-waist thing never happened; they decided not to open the floodgates upriver after all, but according to the...

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The Blues And The Implausible Truth

Uncategorized Oct 12, 2018

I've quoted this Mike Bloomfield bit before, but it captures so much about learning to play guitar it's worth repeating. Bloomfield, recounting his early days, said, "I was learning to play, you know, for a few years, and then suddenly, when I was about 18, I got good." I don't think anybody picks up the guitar hoping to suck at it; we're all trying to get good. But of course, if we care at all about music we tend to be ferocious critics of our own playing, so it's a little like a dog chasing hubcaps: we wouldn't know what to do if we got there, but because of the setup, that's a pretty unlikely scenario from the get-go.

When I was in school, planning my senior thesis recital concert with my advisor, we had this conversation about who I was going to ask to play the charts I was writing. He suggested I get this guy John to play trumpet. "No way," I said, "I can't ask him. He's, like, the best jazz musician on campus." Which is when the real lesson began. "Listen," said my advisor,...

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Grant Green I-VI-ii

hard bop blues licks Oct 05, 2018

You can hear Grant Green play something like this on "Blues For Juanita" from his 1962 Blue Note LP The Latin Bit. As far as I can tell, as the one non-Latin groove from the day's recording, "Blues For Juanita" was left off the original release but seems to have been included in every subsequent reissue along with a couple of other tracks from later in the year.

This lick takes place over bars 7 and 8 of a twelve-bar jazz blues in Bb, and I've indicated what tonality Green is playing out of (above the tab) and what scale steps he's playing relative to that tonality (above the notation). As you can see from all of that, he sticks pretty close to the harmonies at hand, with the G7 altered lick falling neatly into measure 8 – making it particularly easy for you to lift and appropriate this move for your own use elsewhere.

More importantly, check out how easy it is to slip from this particular position of the Bb scale into the G7 sound, and from there into some C minor moves, all...

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