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The Art of Playing Jazz Guitar - A True Preparation Primer Part 2

John Belthoff

In part 1; we discussed various metronome techniques to advance our awareness, concentration, feeling, and broaden our minds while practicing. This article will go into what we should be practicing and, more importantly, thinking when using those techniques.

Music is made up of three basic elements, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm. All are interrelated and we should not try to isolate them because this will not take us where we want to be. We instead want to understand each of them in a unique way so when eventually combined they make a more poignant whole. Melody was first on my list so let`s start there.

Our melodies will make or break our playing - Period!

When we practice melodies we must remember that for each tune we work on there are probably lyrics for it. If you do not know the lyrics, stop and get a copy. Read them, speak them out loud, sing them and learn them until they become part of you.

Next, listen to the greatest vocalists sing these tunes. Listen to their phrasing, their articulation, how they use their mouths, tongues, teeth, lips, lungs, body posture or whatever they do to produce the sounds. Think about the ways we can incorporate all of those things into our guitar playing.

Unfortunately, the guitar is an instrument that has no air blowing through it so we have to improvise. Also the patterns of scales and chord fingerings we were taught when we started don`t help our creativity. I`m not saying that we shouldn`t learn them but many times practicing only these will leave us stale and stiff.

Case in point, did you ever transcribe a great jazz guitar solo only to realize that the fingerings needed to play it are no were near what we were taught about standard fingerings for guitar scales?

So what do we do?

Start off basic and I mean so basic that we`re probably way ahead of ourselves already. Be aware of the endless possibilities of making each note and then break it down to the point where we are left with only the rudimentary elements of producing a single tone on the guitar. The atomic tone so to speak.

For instance, if we play with only the thumb of our picking hand as opposed to a plectrum we get one type of sound. If we play only down strokes with our thumb we get a different sound again.

Let`s delve into this further as it is important.

If we play with our index finger, middle finger, a plectrum on the pointy end, on the fat corner, on the fat end, upstrokes, down strokes, whatever, we can make all kinds of sounds. In fact, there are so many possibilities we may never get to them all in our lifetime.

Hopefully you see where I am getting at and we haven`t even discussed the fingering hand yet nor have we discussed any particular notes, pitches, dynamics etc

Don`t let that stop you. Start learning this now and you will be happy you did.

Ok what`s next?

Select 3 notes and work with only them while thinking about the spoken voice and how you would convey three words in a sentence. Think about how

If we were to find someone we don`t know and say to them; "What is your name?" We would get a response. Don`t forget that a non response is also a response. We must realize the actual response we get is dependent on how we phrase and/or articulate our words and realize that we can control this response only if we understand its relationship to our actual question.

I`ll explain. If we were to say those exact words in a teasing, tormenting and antagonistic manner we would get one response. If on the other hand we were to use an openly friendly demeanor we get an entirely different response all together.

The human voice is of particular concern to us because our ultimate goal is to emulate what it does with our instrument. We want to be able to communicate with our guitars the way people communicate when they speak to each other - which is not unlike melodies.

As babies, we were only able to make rudimentary noises to communicate. Years later, hopefully, we are able to form intelligent rational thoughts and convey them with our words using articulation and phrasing and word combinations to mean many things. We want to apply this to our guitar playing.

Remember, it took us years to be able speak in this manner and we should approach practicing melody with the same realization and not try to run before we can walk.

We should also remember that even babies can communicate in a very compelling manner without using words at all! So don`t be afraid if this practice routine seems too simple. It`s not the notes you use, it`s what they are actually communicating that is important.

What can we deduce from all of this?

When you start finding yourself practicing or playing those blazing fast cool scalar riffs, stop and think about how many times you hear actual people speak like that.

Now - ask yourself how long you would stay and listen to them if they did.

That`s it for now but look for new articles in the future and remember; have fun, practice hard and always play your heart out!

Guitar man: his instruments have resounding curves - Career At A Glance

Black Enterprise , April, 2003 by Sonia Alleyne

While most children simply play with their toys. Sherwood T. "Woody" Phifer spent his childhood deconstructing them. By the age of 4, he was making his own Phifer built go-carts, bicycles, kites, and remote control glider planes. "If it was a tool or a toy--if it was something I couldn`t afford or [something] I simply wanted, I would just make it," he says.

Phifer no longer makes toys: He now builds exquisitely handcrafted electric and acoustic guitars that range in price from $4,900 to $12,000. His 20-year clientele includes musicians such as Ronnie Jordan, Mos Def, Will Lee, Ron Carter, Stanley Clark, Wyclef Jean, and George Benson, all of whom subscribe to Woody`s personally coined phrase, "If you don`t have a Woody, you just have a guitar."

Although long-standing companies like Fender and Gibson have cornered the market on mass producing electric guitars, Phifer has found his niche. "Most companies use generic hardware parts that are made out of metal and composite materials," he explains. "I have designed my own bridge and tailpiece systems. My bridge is made of wood and is fully adjustable. It provides a more acoustic sound with a longer sustain. I`ve also developed my own internal structures that enhance the instrument`s tone."

Phifer`s instruments are carved from maple, Sitka spruce, and African gibbon mahogany in finishes that include bing cherry, indigo blue, purple, and lemon yellow.

* Breaks in the rhythm: It was Phifer`s love for the intricacies of mechanics that directed his college study. Although he majored in mathematics and physics at Central State University in Zenia, Ohio, he was simultaneously developing another passion. Enamored by the musical dexterity of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix, Phifer taught himself to play the guitar. But for Phifer, playing was only part of the attraction. "I borrowed a friend`s [Fender], took it apart, and put it back together," he says.

* Don`t stop this groove: During a summer break in 1971, while looking for an electronic component in New York City, Phifer got off the subway at the wrong stop and found himself in front of the famed Guitar Lab. "Nothing is ever by accident," he concedes. "I had done wood sculpture and had a lot of skills, but [I] wasn`t familiar with the procedures used to make musical instruments." It would be a perfect marriage. The shop`s owner, Charlie LoBue, was seeking an intern. Phifer never returned to school.

"Inside of six months, I stopped doing electronics and moved to wood," he says. "I was primarily doing repairs and restoration, which requires more skill," He remained at the shop for five years honing his talents. In his spare time, Phifer played with bands throughout the city. In 1980, however, a machine accident caused Phifer to lose the tip of the ring finger on his left hand. "The doctor, also a classical guitar player, told me I would never play again. I switched gears and concentrated on building guitars." The fingertip did eventually regenerate.

* High notes: Phifer Designs & Concepts was developed three years ago. Since that time, he has created more than 125 guitars. His workdays are long and hectic: He tracks orders and does patent drawing and repair work. Phifer easily spends 16 to 18 hours on his feet, but he is always pleased with the results. "All of my instruments incorporate my particular designs and my approach to building. They really stand apart from everything else that`s in the industry."

Sherwood T. "Woody" Phifer
LOCATION: Garnerville, New York
DUTIES:Designs and crafts
 guitars and basses
SALARY RANGE:$60,000-$80,000

COPYRIGHT 2003 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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