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A Little Story

Part 2


In Part 1 of this little story I shared some of my history. The moral of which is that without a systematic, guided approach to learning music and the guitar, you will remain in limbo, learning by a laborious, time-consuming and random process of trial-and-error to whatever you happen - by chance - to have heard. It is the most inefficient, suboptimal way to learn that exists.


Conversely, if you find a teacher who has a methodology, a systematic approach to the entire history of western music, and knows how to apply it to your instrument, you will save literally decades of time. In just a few years, you will have attained to a level of knowledge and playing that you could not have achieved on your own, even if you worked at it your whole life.


BTW: In the previous post one of the things I didn't tell you was that my teacher, John Elliott, was not a guitarist. He was a pianist. He didn't play guitar – at all. But he understood it and could write for it. He wrote some of the most beautiful solo arrangements for the guitar I've ever heard – I use many of them to this day.


I had a conversation with Joe Satriani once. Joe studied with a blind jazz piano player in New York, Lennie Tristano. Not only did Lennie not play the guitar, he couldn't even see it! When I asked him about his lessons with Lennie Tristano, Satriani lit up and started talking! Since I was also taught by jazz pianist we had a lot to talk about. totally open about who might be the right teacher for you. He might not be a guitarist.


So let me continue my story:

The whole time I was studying with John I was playing full-time. I was performing at least six nights a week in clubs, sometimes more. I remember a stretch in the early eighties where I was actually playing 13 gigs a week! Happy-hour (4pm-8pm) Monday through Friday as a solo jazz guitarist in a hotel bar providing ambiance for businessmen and their after-work trysts and martinis. After that I would go play Rock &/or R&B Dance music in a club from 9pm-1am Monday through Saturday. I did a Jazz/Blues matinee on Saturday afternoons with a different band and then a Sunday night jazz gig with the Saturday afternoon band. This went on for months without a day off. Juggling two different bands and 5 solo gigs a week. All that to say I had ample opportunity to apply what I was learning from John in a real-world context.


By late 1985 I had heard John say, “Well, this is about all I can teach you theory-wise.” I hung on for a few months, we worked on some arrangements, then I finally quit my lessons with John in February of 1986.

I began teaching seriously in 1983. I saw it as a way to get off the road, which had become hard on the family, stay in town and yet still make a living with the guitar. As long as there's a guitar in my hand I'm a pretty happy person.

It took a couple of years of maneuvering to get the teaching to the point that I could quit gigging every night. For about 2 years I did both, which was not good for the teaching. There were times when I had to put the students on hold for 2 or 3 weeks while I went back out on the road. But eventually, I got the teaching load to the point at which I felt I could safely pull the plug on the band. When my teaching load finally hit 50 students a week, I gave my band two weeks notice and that was it. Don't get me wrong, I still gig - a lot - two to four gigs a week most of the time - and I love it. But the bread-and-butter has been the teaching from 1986 on. Coincidently, that was February of '86 – the same time that I came to the end of my lessons with John Elliott.


At first I taught like John did, I wrote every lesson out by hand, one page at a time. I rarely used prepackaged methods like Mel Bay or Hal Leonard. I had realized while I was still studying with him that John's method was superior to anything out there.


In the early nineties I got my first computer – Windows 3.1. I began putzing around, trying to figure out how to get the lessons I was writing out by hand into the computer. Windows 95 was a game-changer.


I began printing out the lessons for my students instead of writing them out. Then I realized I was paying 5 or 6 hundred dollars (or more) a year in printing costs. I was running more-or-less 90 students a week at the time. That's a lot of paper and ink! Why not create a series of books I could sell to my students instead of paying to print off each lesson for them? So that's what I did. That's how my method book, Vertical Truth: Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar came to be. For more of that story, and how I got John's approval of the book, go here

I used my lessons with John as a model for my own teaching business. Basically, I follow John's method, although there are a lot of “guitaristic” aspects to the book that I didn't get from John, simply because he wasn't a guitarist. But the methodology is certainly John's, and a great deal of the content I got from John.


The next thing that happened was that a friend and fan of mine who managed a local music store talked me into stocking some books on consignment. Then I found out several of the guitar teachers in that store were using my books in their lessons! So...I wound up with this book that I had originally intended to sell only to my own students begin to be used by other teachers completely unsolicited on my part.


When the first instance of this happened, I realized that I was looking at something that could potentially take off if I worked it right. I had some issues with other teachers using it but that was already happening anyway. So I decided to work it and see what happened.


I started creating a network of teachers that were capable of teaching from the book. I created a website – originally, now – to promote it.

I now have dozens of teachers in 18 different cities around the country that use my method books to one degree or another in their teaching activities. Many of them are former students of mine; some of them are former students of John's. The book was not designed to be a self-teaching method. It requires a knowledgeable instructor. It's more of an outline – there's lots of room for individual variables in the application.


It's important to know that it requires a knowledgeable instructor and in-person, one-on-one application!


The point of this second part of my story is that the method works in real life. I have proved the functionality of it continuously for years and years in real-world playing situations of all kinds. The method is applicable to any genre or style of music. Gigs for a few people in somebody's living room to outdoor festivals on big stages in front of tens of thousands and everything in between. It's functional in the studio – I've done thousands of recording sessions, I've produced my own projects and played on many others as a sideman, and as a hired gun studio musician. It gives me the tools to write my own stuff, as well as arrange other people's stuff.


Not to mention the fact that John was gigging from the '40's through the '80's – maybe even into the '90's. He was the house pianist at the Playboy Club in Kansas City for the better part of 10 years. In that capacity he backed up all the major names that were on the Playboy circuit – Tony Bennet, Sarah Vaughn, Mel Torme, the list goes on and on. Those singers loved his playing so much they would pay him to write out arrangements that they could take to the musicians at the other clubs on the circuit.




So how does this part 2 of my story relate to you? Why should you care? Especially if you don't live near me and have no personal access to me other than online? Well, stay tuned because the next part of this story concerns the migration of the method to an online, en masse environment.


Next: Part 3

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