Brick by Brick, Step by Step

Although, I am a very organized person in general, especially when it comes to musical projects, a mistake that I still make is diving into too many ideas once in a while and trying to gather and combine them too quickly. Neither do I have the energy nor do I have the time to make them turn into the entity that I am imagining in my head. Of course, in the end, I get somewhere but it’s hell until that moment arrives. I get overwhelmed by the tons of half-finished bits and pieces that someone has to saw together now.

For example,

I’d start writing a bass pattern for the chorus, meanwhile I’d have an idea for the guitar solo. I’d start working on that which brings another drum idea to mind that would go well with certain parts of that particular melody. I’d make changes in vocal track that would mean that all the backing parts that had been recorded before the “star” arrived would have to be re-arranged and re-recorded. All this is before I even start recording or mixing, mind you.

Sometimes I try recording all the possible ideas that I can think of so that I can go back and choose whatever suits best to whatever part. It is not necessarily a wrong to do… for some maybe, especially if you have the time. But in my case the longer I dwell on a project the more frustrated I get. I like moving fast and finishing a project before I lose interest in it. Just like anyone, I enjoy working on fresh ideas that excite me and I am not short of them, either.

To cut the long story short, what I’ve happen to discover is, even though skipping a due planning and/or small boring details may seem like a short cut and a ticket to jump into more fun and creative steps, in the long run, and more often than not, it all blows up in your face and prolongs the process. Again, and again, you are forced to go back and do what you should’ve done in the beginning anyway.

Go step by step, brick by brick. Don’t jump into another part before the one you’re working on is ready. Some people like starting out with laying down the kick drum and bass, some people choose recording a guitar riff as a dynamics-guide track to drive the rest of the song. It all depends on your genre and your personal choices but I think it would be more productive if we decide what will happen in what order.

Mix on, friends.


Guitar Talk #11: Improvisation is a Lot Like Surfing

Guitar Talk #11: Improvisation is a Lot Like Surfing

To me, improvisation is a lot like surfing, not that I CAN surf, but at least I could safely assume that it would require major concentration. That wouldn’t mean tensing your body up, though.

You should be alert and ready, yet flexible to go with the flow and have fun. If you plan ahead too much you’d sound stiff and same all the time.

On the other hand, if you’re too loose, you’d miss the musical clues and the waves would wipe you out.

Not to say that it would never happen, but coming up with unique and magical notes every time you play is not an everyday occurrence, not even when you have hours and hours to sit down and dissect a tune, let alone while being in the moment and improvising. It’s about gathering a strong arsenal of ideas first by practicing a lot, then setting the one that you think is the most appropriate at a certain musical moment and leaving the door open for surprises at the same time.

Take care.

Lesson #09: Apple Bit, Chord and Scale Analysis

If done incorrectly, practicing guitar may cause injuries. It is one’s own responsibility to: See a physician, first and make sure that he/she is fit to play guitar. Always warm up and stretch before playing. Quit playing when he/she feels any muscular discomfort or pain.

If we froze the frame for a period of time in the amount of a particular note’s value, we can see and hear a combination that almost creates an extended chord. We can imagine the whole piece, song, etc. consists of one extension chord after another instead of seeing the melody and the background harmony as two separate entities. The Chord Charts below makes it clearer.

This is a piece in the key of C major. It was one of those tiny projects that I started with an idea in my head but ended up with a slightly different one.

First, I wrote down a chord progression. My original progression was a basic

IIm7 - V7 - I - VIm7 - IIm7 - V7 - I

With a few changes, I turned it into

IIm7 - V7 - I7 - VI7 - IIm7 - V7 - I

If I write a complex melody, I keep the chords simple. On the other hand, if I write a simple melody then I play around with chords and experiment with alterations. But even then, I often follow kind of a linear approach. I try and keep the chord harmony move below the main melody and keep an eye on what each one of the notes is doing rather than insisting on a certain chord and voicing just because that happens to be what I had originally written.

BAR #01

Over Dm7 chord I could’ve used D Aeolian Scale (D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C) but when a minor seven chord is in the position of
IIm7, Dorian always sounds more natural.

So, D Dorian:(D, E, F, G, A, B, C)

Then follows G7, the V7 (five dominant seven) chord in the key of C major. Just like I’ve chosen D Dorian for Dm7,
I could’ve used the expected Mixolydian for the V7 chord but this is a short example piece, so I wanted some flavor in there,
right off the bat.

I had Ab Melodic Minor Scale (Ab, Bb, Cbb/B, Db, Eb, F, G) in my mind which would turn this section into

G Altered Scale (G, Ab, Bb, Cbb/B, Db, Eb, F).

But when my ear pulled me towards the note D after the note B, it had become something else.

Because I had only used 4 notes, it is difficult to say exactly which scale I used here. In my mind I was playing
G Phrygian (G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb, F) a minor scale over a major dominant chord that added a bit of Flamenco flavor
but if I had had more space and time to add more notes, I would find Spanish Gypsy Scale (G, Ab, B, C, D, Eb, F)
which also contains those 4 notes that I played over G7 (D, Eb, G, Ab), more appropriate and use that instead for sure.
After all, it has the note B just like the G7 chord whereas G Phrygian has Bb.

It’s not to say the 3rds of a scale couldn’t be altered, though. It all depends on which notes follow which ones. If there are already too many extension notes in the melody that don’t belong to the chord, I tend to keep the 3rd note as one of the anchors that stay solid and maintain the unique sound of that particular chord.

G Spanish Gypsy Scale is basically C Harmonic Minor Scale starting from the 5th degree.

BAR #02

I would’ve used a plain C or maybe a C MAJ7 here and start the bar with the note G but after using the chromatic notes
G and Ab back to back at the end of the last bar,
I felt like going a bit bluesy adding the next chromatic note A.

It’s almost like slipping into D Blues Scale for a split second between the G Spanish Gypsy Scale of the last bar
and the C Ionian Scale which I seemingly use here. However, in reality, what I use is technically a

C Mixolydian Scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb) without the seventh, Bb that is.

Why is that?
Because when the melody continued starting with 2 extension notes (A and F) right in the beginning of the bar,
using C7 instead of C made it more fitting and bluesy somehow. Maybe I could’ve even used a C MAJ 7 chord instead but it probably would’ve made it a notch too mellow for what I wanted there.

Using the C7 chord under A and F gave me the flavors of of C13 and C11.

You see?

It’s all about small choices like that and testing them out if you have the time to do it. While you’re improvising, it’s a different story, though. You have to act quicker and use the best idea that happens to show up at that very split second. It doesn’t always
happen to be the best choice but that’s what it is and what makes it more exciting. That’s why building chops and getting as good as we can, is very important if we’re planning to follow more of an improvisational path in the future.

On the chord A7, the blues and flamenco interaction continues, because C Major key calls for Am7 not an A7.
It shakes things up a bit.

I could’ve used a very safe A Mixolydian (A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G) over A7 chord or remained in the key of C Major by playing its 6th mode A Aeolian (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) avoiding that C note or adding it on purpose and creating a flavor of A7#9.

But I went for A Altered Scale (A, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G)

in other words played a Bb Melodic Minor scale (Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, A)

starting from its 7th degree which is the root note of the A7 chord: A.

This is a trick I use often if a dominant 7 chord is playing the role of V7 chord; if it is followed by its fourth.

A (1st), B (2nd), C# (3rd), D (4th)

In this case the A7 is indeed followed by its 4th which is D in the form of Dm7.

If a dominant 7 chord is V7 and resolves into I chord, I use the

Altered Scale: the Melodic Minor Scale of the note that is half step higher than the root of the V7 chord,
but starting from that V7 root which happens to be the 7th degree of that particular Melodic Minor Scale.



In A7 case,
Half step higher from the root of the A would be Bb.
The 7th degree of Bb Melodic Minor Scale would be the note A (which is the root of our V7 chord).
We play that Bb Melodic Minor scale starting from A and call it A Altered Scale.

BAR #03

Nothing very special is going on here.

A simple D Dorian (D, E, F, G, A, B, C) treatment over Dm7 chord, made more obvious with the use of the note B instead of Bb.

For the G7 chord I used the G Spanish Gypsy Scale (G, Ab, B, C, D, Eb, F) again. This time it was intentional though.

I was going to play a simple G Mixolydian ( G, A, B, C, D, E, F) at first but for some reason my ear wanted to place that Eb before the whole thing resolved into C in the next bar which incidently turned it into something else.

BAR #04

Simply ending the piece with the root note of the final C chord.

It almost sounds like a Minor Scale ending with a major chord giving that Flamenco, Gypsy Jazzish feeling.

Lesson # 07: Simplifying Guitar Chords Part 02

If done incorrectly, practicing guitar may cause injuries. It is one’s own responsibility to: See a physician, first and make sure that he/she is fit to play guitar. Always warm up and stretch before playing. Quit playing when he/she feels any muscular discomfort or pain.

As I mentioned before first thing to look at before you decide how to voice a chord is whether it is a major or a minor chord.

I look at it as a fruit basket. The root note and the perfect 5th note are the basket. 3rd and the 7th note are the fruit, the flavor, so to speak.

If you’re playing in a band the basket part is usually taken care of by the bass and the keyboards. To give the flavor you don’t need to be playing 6 string voicing of a simple major seven or a minor seven chord.

Of course, the situations may vary and sometimes it is wiser to play full, rich sounding chords, especially if you’re the only comping instrument. And I am by no way endorsing an idea of learning less about theory and chords. However, for the sake of smoother movement on the fretboard, chord-soloing and saving extra left-hand fingers for extra flavors that may come after those 7th notes, this may be a very beneficial approach.

Another benefit may be for the beginners who dread those complex-looking chords that require super stretched left-hand positions and avoid them altogether thus delay their comping progress, whereas using a few triads and four note shapes would suffice, at least until they get to manage those difficult alternatives just as well as the easier ones.

In my personal opinion,

Having the skill to play almost any melody in every which way possible and yet choosing not to complicate a musical piece unnecessarily is the wisest approach.

Learn your material inside out first and then go crazy improvising knowing that you have the foundation to fall back on.

Let’s start by seventh chords and simple IIm7 – V7 – I progression which you will come across everywhere.
In the key of G

G major scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#

IIm7 - V7 - I  for this Key:

Am7 - D7 - G

Notes of the chords:

Am7: A, C, E, G
D7: D, F#, A, C
G: G, B, D

If you come across a chord like Am7b9, D7#9 don’t worry about those #9, b9, 11s and whatnot.

What’s important here is that you give the main flavor of those chords 3rd and the 7th notes. You can get away only playing those 2 notes although we’re going to include root notes in the next example, as well.

2 note voicings (3rds and 7ths) for the chords are as follows,

Am7: C and G
D7: F# and C
G: we play the main triad

But if want a softer resolution after D7 and we use G major 7

GM7: G, B, D, F#
GM7: B and F# (3rd and 7th)

If we add the roots as well,

Am7: A, C, G
D7: D, F#, C
G: G, B, D
GM7: G, B, F

Now let’s apply all that to C Major key and its IIm7 - V7 - I proggression:

C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B

IIm7 - V7 - I  for this Key:

Dm7 - G7 - C

Notes of the chords:

Dm7: D, F, A, C
G7: G, B, D, F
C: C, E, G

2 note voicings (3rds and 7ths) for the chords are as follows,

Dm7: F and C
G7: B and F
C: we play the main triad

But if want a softer resolution after G7 and we use C major 7

CM7: C, E, G, B
CM7: E and B (3rd and 7th)

If we add the roots as well,

Dm7: D, F, C
G7: G, B, F
C: C, E, G
CM7: C, D, B

Below are more possibilities to create your own combinations. No specific key, just the degrees on certain strings:

IIm7 Chord (with 2-Note Voicings)

IIm7 Chord (with 3-Note Voicings)

V7 Chord (with 2-Note Voicings)

V7 Chord (with 3-Note Voicings)

I Chord (with 3-Note Voicings)

I Maj7 Chord (with 2-Note Voicings)

I Maj7 Chord (with 3-Note Voicings)

Guitar Talk #08 Muscle Memory May Be Deceiving

Muscle memory is a great tool for a guitar player. You can practice a song or a solo slowly with a metronome, bit by bit, get it under your fingers speed it up and it’s there. Sometimes you don’t have to even think about what you’re playing, in what position you’re playing it etc.

Unfortunately, that’s not always a good thing, especially if you’re playing a piece that has many repetitions but also a lot of changes at the same time.


Your fingers would naturally would want to go to “B” every time you play an “A” and if you let them do it you’d be messing up in the 2nd row where “A” is followed by "C" not “B”.

So, your focus is almost as important as your muscle memory. Then again, if you’re too focused then you have the risk of sounding too timid and rigid. Stage fright may do that to you when all the strangers and your buddies seem to be watching you and waiting for that bum note, or at least when that’s what YOU think they’re doing.

Being relaxed enough to let your muscle memory do its thing, and make your fingers glide on the neck while satying focused enough to put the brakes on the automatic pilot when there is a turbulence on the way, comes from putting yourself into that situation and discovering how YOUR mind deals with it under pressure, not from just listening how others handle it.

Having said that knowing that every musician goes through similar difficulties makes it seem less unbeatable and gives hope for those who don’t have enough experience yet.

Take care.

Guitar Talk # 06: Being Open for New Ideas

I try not to pigeonhole my playing in just one style. I try to be open for new ideas and analyzing fractions of different forms that I may benefit from.

If a person is a jazz player and checks out techniques from a heavy metal guitarist it doesn’t mean that now he/she is suddenly going to start playing heavy metal. But he/she may find bits in that style that could be implemented into a jazz tune and add some unexpected flavors. It could work exactly the other way, also.

It’s like making food. Imagine a small town where there are three types of people:

Onion lovers.
Tomato lovers.
Lemon lovers.

They all have their own shop to buy their favorite ingredient before lunch time.

Onion lovers go to Onion Mart, only to buy Onion.
Tomato lovers go to Tomato Mart, only to buy Tomato.
Lemon lovers go to Lemon Mart, only to buy… you guessed it: Lemon.

Let’s say that you are that person who loves lemon. One day you decide to make a tomato soup; just for a change. You use your scoop to stir it. You don’t suddenly change shops and become a tomato customer but you like it somewhat.

Next time you’re making your lemon soup, something interesting happens. You use the same scoop that still has some of that tomato flavor and your soup tastes different, richer almost.

Your next-door neighbor discovers the secret of your soup and he tries the same thing but unlike you, who had stirred the tomato soup for 4 minutes, he stirs it for 6 minutes, 2 minutes longer. You both started with the same idea but since you applied it in your own way your soups don’t taste the same. The neighbor across the street adds ginger to the mix, and so on…

Try and be open for new ideas, in music and in life. See where it takes you.
Take care.

Guitar Talk # 05: Audience Too Loud?

When you’re performing alone at a gig without any band to back you up, you can use the silence to your advantage. Just like a painter painting his/her painting, start with light touches; in other words, use your pick softly. That way, you will have a better control of the dynamics in your performance. To add a little tension to his/her light background, all a painter has to do is use a little darker shade. But if he/she had started with the darkest of the darkest tone it would take crazy intensity to add any shade on top of that. Same goes for the music. If you start very heavy, where are you to go from there? You will have to wrist match with your guitar throughout the rest of your performance. All you’ll get from that would be a few broken strings and an annoying noise. If you’re playing heavy metal music you can get away with that to a point but even a heavy metal song has its dynamics; all the good ones do, anyway.

It’s a common occurrence to play at a gig and face a crowd who is not there only to listen to music. Some might be there to see friends, meet new people, etc. Don’t take it personally.

If you communicate with them well through your music, generally, people tend to get quieter when you bring it down a bit. But even if they don’t, it doesn’t mean you have to fight for their attention by strumming harder. They’ll simply start talking louder as well. You can’t win that battle. Sure, if you have a loud PA system, seemingly, it might help get you heard but it would be too challenging for the listeners to enjoy or tolerate.

Take it easy and play at a level and an intensity that you’re comfortable with at all times.

Lesson # 04.D – Position Playing Example

If done incorrectly, practicing guitar may cause injuries. It is one’s own responsibility to: See a physician, first and make sure that he/she is fit to play guitar. Always warm up and stretch before playing. Quit playing when he/she feels any muscular discomfort or pain.

Lesson # 04.C – Position Playing Example

If done incorrectly, practicing guitar may cause injuries. It is one’s own responsibility to: See a physician, first and make sure that he/she is fit to play guitar. Always warm up and stretch before playing. Quit playing when he/she feels any muscular discomfort or pain.

Lesson # 04.B – Postion Playing Example

If done incorrectly, practicing guitar may cause injuries. It is one’s own responsibility to: See a physician, first and make sure that he/she is fit to play guitar. Always warm up and stretch before playing. Quit playing when he/she feels any muscular discomfort or pain.

Lesson # 04.A – Position Playing Example

If done incorrectly, practicing guitar may cause injuries. It is one’s own responsibility to: See a physician, first and make sure that he/she is fit to play guitar. Always warm up and stretch before playing. Quit playing when he/she feels any muscular discomfort or pain.

Guitar Talk # 03 Can Playing Guitar Make You Rich?

Let’s get this straight. You’re not going to get rich playing guitar or being a musician. If that’s what you’re after starting to learn an instrument or getting into any form of art, forget it. Especially today, it is way more difficult to make money out of music, even for the biggest names in music business, than it was a few decades ago.

Aren’t there any musicians who make good money out of music, then?

That’s not what I’m saying, though. Yes, probably there are plenty of them but it would take something else than just being a good musician. They would’ve ended up where they are today, financially, even if they were doing something completely different anyway.

What you'd really get from being involved in music is not money and wealth, it's musical satisfaction; a sense of achievement; a focus that becomes a therapy; appreciation of effort; respect for others who had put in the hard work. In other words, things you couldn’t afford with money.

However, there are social benefits to being a musician. It’s a natural ice breaker of some sort and an automatic social value creator. People tend to trust you more. They feel like they can come over and talk to you without being afraid. Sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes it’s not. But if you’re a young person who wants to meet new people but you’re too shy, it can be a perfect gateway for you.

Ultimately if you feel the love towards music, nothing else would be a main factor in your pursuit anyway; perhaps just icing on the cake.

Personally, music has given me, almost, nothing, financially but it did open some doors I never even knew existed before and led me where I am today. Hmmm… interesting.

Guitar Talk #02: My Picking Style

There was a time fingerpicking was as alien to me as driving still is. That’s right, sadly I’m not even kidding. I used a pick to play the lead and strum the chords. This lasted about 20 years. Then came a point where I wanted to hear certain harmonies. Playing rhythm with a pick is great for percussive comping and all that but I had a sound in mind which was more piano like. Actually, that’s the reason why I bought a classical guitar although I’ve never been a classical music player, if one doesn’t count a few pieces that I had learned and played around to impressed people; shame on me.

For some reason it never occurred to me then to hold on to my pick and add remaining left-hand fingers to the porridge. What I did was bite the pick while I lead the bass with my thumb and used my index, middle and ring fingers for the treble parts. “But what about your pinky?” you might ask, rightfully. Well… I ignored it… for years. I’ve only used 4 note voicings forever and now I think it’s a bit too late and too much of a hustle to go back and re-wire my left hand. It’s not impossible but personally, after reaching a certain point, and not very easily, mind you, I find it a bit uninspiring to go back and start from the beginning. However, if I was a beginner I would keep the pick between my thumb and index finger while I used the rest for the harmonizing. That would bring a very smooth transition between soloing and comping.

What I do however is use my left-hand index finger as a pick by supporting it with my thumb which allows me to simulate a pick picking motion. Down side of that is that upstrokes have yet to keep up with the downstrokes in velocity department because of the natural curve of a fingernail. I’m coping well though because there are times I watch an old video of mine and I can’t quite tell whether I’m holding a pick or not. So, I must be doing something right.

Guitar Talk #01: Why Guitar?

Let’s face it, guitar is a very challenging instrument. You can play lead melodies and chords with it. Yes, a piano can also provide you the same possibility but you don’t have to get so physical with it; not to mention that every pitch is located at only one point on a keyboard whereas on a guitar there are six strings (or more) and way too many frets to conquer which may be overwhelming at times. Drums may be physically challenging but a drummer doesn’t have to memorize chords and scales to go with them, etc. In other words, guitar is a different monster all together.

A beginner cannot create decent sounds as soon as he/she grabs a guitar. One needs to stand the test of time before reaching a certain level that doesn’t drive your fellow bystanders crazy. I’m not even including theory to that, not yet anyway, because there are some legendary guitar players in history who knew nothing about theory but their lack of knowledge was more than compensated by their ears and technique.

All this difficulty makes the targets reached along the journey taste sweeter I suppose. Because those who are not passionate about guitar would get bored quit it before they get to that certain point but for those who keep soldiering on there’s simply no return. Would any of them complain about the burns and the blisters on fingertips and other “by products”? Absolutely not.

Having said all that, one doesn’t have to become a guitar player to enjoy guitar music either. I for one know many people who appreciate guitar albums but have never even held one in their entire life. They’re quite happy where they’re at.