Harmonica Inspiration

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We have a harmonica course coming soon, and if you’re looking for some inspiration to try the instrument, well, look no further…

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Re-Think the Band: Unconventional Live Lineups

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by Rich Tozzoli

Playing live can be addictive. But a lot of players never get to experience the feeling of satisfying a crowd — and satisfying themselves — because they’re waiting to form that perfect band before taking their songs public.

Though a classic band setup like guitar + bass + drums + vocals (maybe with a second guitarist or keyboardist, too) can be great, there’s a lot to be said for finding an alternative approach. Opening up your mind and your music to unconventional live situations can be hugely rewarding. Why wait around for a dream band when you can be playing out right now?

A recent gig: Guitar + Drums + Vocals
For starters, you could just find a drummer and a singer, and skip the bass player. No offense meant to bass players, but in a trio format such as that, you (the guitarist) are in total control of all the music. There’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also very liberating.

I began playing out recently with a similar lineup. The singer laid down some keyboard pads on just a few songs, and the drummer played a small kit. He also streamed loops out of a laptop. At first, it took a little getting used to, from a guitarist’s point of view. I quickly came to realize that playing root-based chords low on the neck (generally not above III or V position) were essential to a full sound. For example, it worked best to play a Gmin7 chord in III position with the root on the 6th string, whereas with a bass player I might have played the chord up in X position with the root on the 5th.  Just as important, I literally tailored my guitar and amp configuration to provide me the most bass response. The lineup was definitely a “learn as you go” situation.  [Stay tuned for the upcoming article Right Rig for the Gig, which explores gear options for live situations — Ed.]

A few things became quite clear after the first few shows:

•  This is a great way to play out. If the drummer and I felt like taking it somewhere during a song, there was no bass player to worry about following us.

•   Not one person in any crowd complained there was no bass.

•   Rehearsals, costs and band politics were kept to a bare minimum.

•  I became a better player, because I couldn’t solo in the traditional sense. I would step out for just a measure at a time, and also found that it helped to draw more doublestops into my soloing for a fuller sound.

•  I used a ridiculously simple setup: 1×12″ amp, an octave pedal for extra bass, and a Malekko Chicklet for some extra wet reverb on slow songs.   http://www.malekkoheavyindustry.com/index.php/chicklet

•   It truly was liberating.

That type of band lineup won’t suit everyone, but it does serve the idea of breaking out of tradition.  Here are some other very workable live stage scenarios.

Guitar + Laptop
Run pre-produced tracks behind yourself, or trigger loops on the fly with a pedalboard and a suitable program such as like Ableton LIVE. You then control the tempo and feel of every song. Take the time at home to make interesting rhythm tracks and then stretch out live on top of them.

Guitar + Drums
Why not just gig out with you and a drummer? Worked for the White Stripes. If the drummer is good and can follow you, you’ll be leading the way the whole night. This will leave a lot of room for both of you to improvise. It also works wonders for your sense of time and syncopation.

Guitar + Vocals
How about the classic guitar + vocals? It could be electric, by the way — you don’t have to take the classic troubador-with-acoustic route. You could also get something very interesting going with two electrics; either with complementary rhythm parts, or with one playing rhythm and the other laying down ambient pads and fills.

Guitar + Triggered Loops
It can be exciting for both the crowd and the player to hear loops created live, and then to have those loops become backing tracks. If you’re good at multiple instruments, you could even make like RicoLOOP, the one-man looping band.

Guitar + Bass + Laptop
Audio software is so advanced now that well-programmed parts and loops can make for excellent accompaniment on the live stage. You could easily gig with just bass, guitar and a laptop streaming some cool parts. This way, you can have the bass player lock in with the grooves, and you can take care of the melodies, rhythms and leads.

Anything Goes!
Every arrangement will have its fair share challenges, but at the very least you’ll be out there playing and not sitting at home waiting for the perfect lineup. We saw Kanye West on Letterman with one keyboard and a five-man drum corps (and Autotune on his vox), and he killed. Or look at the late, great Morphine: drummer, bari sax, and a vocalist playing slide on a two-string bass. There’s no shortage of inspiring examples.

Unconventional band make-ups can be creatively inspiring, too. Guaranteed, if you start writing and arranging with an unusual setup in mind, your music will take many unforeseen twists and turns. So step out of convention and hit the stage with something different. You may even break ground on a whole new style.

Rich Tozzoli is a Grammy-nominated engineer, mixer, producer and composer. He has worked with artists such as Ace Frehley, Al Di Meola and David Bowie, among many more, and is the author of Pro Tools Surround Sound Mixing. Rich is also a lifelong guitarist and composer. His work can be heard regularly on FoxNFL, HBO, and Discovery Channel, and he’s recently released the full-length CD, Rhythm Up.

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3 Questions: Richie Kotzen

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by Charlie Doom

Richie Kotzen initially found fame at the age of 21 in the hard rock band, Poison.  Kotzen’s creative and technical command of almost every musical genre from rock, jazz, blues, fusion and pop to soul has led many to tout him as one of the best players in the world. Kotzen is also a prolific and gifted singer/songwriter, having recorded over 20 solo albums and collaborating on over 30 other studio albums crossing all musical styles.

Charlie Doom sat down with Richie and had just enough time to ask him 3 crucial questions:

artist-photo-kotzen1. Do you feel you’re still improving as a player? How do you push yourself creatively?
I think there should always be a feeling of moving forward — a feeling of learning something new.  I suppose you could define this as improving, but I look at it more like adding a new word to your vocabulary or, better still, a new experience or emotion. The idea of music is to be creative and to be truly creative you need to move into the unknown. Doing the same thing over and over again with a different spin is not creativity — that’s not growing.

Creativity is something that comes through you, it is the unexpected. You can’t force it.  What you learn over many years is how to identify this inspiration and when it arrives, knowing what to do with it. That is the real key: the inspiration will come from being free and clear. Identifying creative inspiration and knowing what to do with it is what most people do not grasp.

2. What’s your creative process like? Can you give us an overview of how you develop an idea in your head into a produced song?
I can’t give a specific platform idea, but I can say that songs come from the most unexpected places. Often times I dream music. I have heard melodies when I’m asleep and then remembered when I woke up that I was dreaming some really inspired piece of work. The trouble had been that because I did not force myself to wake up I would never write the music. Later on I realized I must sleep with a recording device by the bed so now when this happens I force myself to wake up and document the idea.

Other songs are not nearly as abstract in their incarnation. Some are simply born from a bass line or a lyrical idea.  There are 2 songs on the Peace Sign CD that I wrote on the bass guitar; one is ‘We’re All Famous‘ and the other is ‘Your Entertainer‘.

At the end of the day the production is decided by the song and how I hear it in my head. I typically hear music in a completed form when I’m in the studio so most of the process is bringing that point of view to life. Then of course there are the moments where I go in the studio and have no clue what I’m going to come out with! I just keep messing around and then suddenly there is something, suddenly there is a song.

I suppose the short answer is there is no one process. Every song is a different animal.

3. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten or would give?
Many years ago, Ozzy* gave me some good advice. It was just him and I talking about the music business (this was early 90′s) and Ozzy was making a point about how much lip service there is in the music business. He said, “if on the one hand a company is telling you everything they are going to do with you (basically empty promises) and on the other hand a company is guarantying nothing and are hard to get on the phone, but hand you a large some of money….”

He told me, “Always take the money.”

Which later on, Ozzy’s advice proved to be right. The only deals with companies I’ve ever made that really worked in my favor were the ones that offered significant advances. It is the only tangible commitment they can make to you in the beginning. Most of the time if someone is talking big that’s all they’re doing – talking. If someone says, “Well, we want you to be involved, but we have a limited budget…” start looking for the door!

*Yes, he ‘s talking about that Ozzy. And furthermore, Richie’s response to question #3 is perhaps one of the most honest insights on the music business you’ll ever find. Unless you’re doing work for a non-profit humanitarian organization, I suggest you heed Kotzen’s advice when conducting business. Don’t be a fool.

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Guitabulary: Joni Mitchell Opens Up

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Joni MitchellJust a few weeks ago the LA Times ran a piece on Joni Mitchell, who was interviewed side by side with the guy who has been performing an all-Joni tribute in drag.  In the interview, Mitchell talked about using 40 different tunings onstage, revealed the rare medical condition she’s suffering from, recalled fond memories of Jimi Hendrix, and shared a few choice words about Bob Dylan. In all, a good read for musicians and non-musicians alike.

She’s not only an enchanting singer and superb songwriter, but Joni Mitchell is also an outstanding player and master of open tunings. This lesson from Andy Ellis, explores her penchant for open tunings, and details how she uses these tunings to spur inspirations for songs including how she developed the classic riff for “Big Yellow Taxi” out of open D.

Audio guitar lesson:

Tab, notation and Power Tab files available here.

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Guitabulary: John Lee Hooker

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Few guitarists become so strongly identified with a genre of music as John Lee Hooker and his timeless boogie. Hooker laid down his share of classics, such as “Boogie Chillen” (a.k.a. “Boogie Chillun”), “I’m in the Mood,” and “Boom Boom,” and inspired a host of musicians to elaborate on his insistent, hypnotic themes. ZZ Top (“La Grange”), one-hit wonder Norman Greenbaum (“Spirit in the Sky”), Booker T. & the MG’s (“Green Onions”), Stevie Wonder (“Higher Ground”), and even Steely Dan (“Black Friday”) are among those who paid homage to Hooker by reworking his swampy riffage. Andy Ellis guides your Hooker tour.

Audio guitar lesson:

Tab, notation and Power Tab files available here.

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