New Workshop: Blues In A

Apr 14, 2021

My friend Ron once said "You're either onstage, backstage, or in the audience. I'm the kind of person who has to be backstage." I totally get his drift. Some people don't necessarily need to be the center of attention, but they're not content to just watch, either. They need an angle, the inside scoop, a sense of proximity to the action at hand.

If you play guitar, you know all about this. It's not enough just to groove on whatever Taj Mahal is doing (whistling in a different key than his guitar, for starters). You want to be able to make those sounds yourself, or something like it. And if not Taj Mahal's sounds, then someone else's. And maybe not even making those sounds for other people just yet. You just want  to be backstage – to be more informed that a mere audience member, closer to where it's happening.

For a while, I spent a fair amount of time backstage, either literally or metaphorically, in my capacity as Music Journalist About Town. You can discern all kinds of extra-musical things about people backstage, many of which turn out to have direct bearing on the music they make. And depending on circumstances, and the communication skills of the individual in question, you might actually glean some details about how people actually make their music. When that kind of gleaning was my job, it deepened an already existing appreciation for people who could actually explain what they did and how they did it.

Despite that appreciation, it took me ages to to embrace that kind of communication as something as interesting and challenging as actually playing music. But now, when I'm developing a workshop or even figuring out a Youtube lesson, I take a kind of watchmaker's pleasure in working to get all the pieces fit together, in clarifying what we'll be doing and how we'll be doing it. Basically, I keep asking myself "What are you going to learn?" until I feel like there's a short, simple answer that adds up to something both useful and cool.

Exhibit A: For this month's workshop, I'll be teaching how to play fingerstyle blues in A. We'll focus on improvising with the blues scale over a steady bass, and look at four different ways to build an expressive, musical solo over the twelve-bar form. You should have at least some familiarity with the steady bass already, as we'll be focusing more on the licks and ideas than basic technique. And while we'll be playing mainly blues sounds rather than swing or jazz licks, there will definitely be some challenging material involved when we get into things like triplet feel and double time.

This two-hour workshop will take place this Saturday, April 17 at 10:30 AM Central, and will be available for replay afterwards. If your idea of getting backstage is being able to sit and play your own improvised choruses of the blues and make it sound good, click the link below for a more detailed explanation of what I'll be covering and how to sign up:

Blues In A