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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Letter to Jimmy Bruno

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

NOTE: I recently found this on an old hard drive. I wrote it 18 years ago. It kind of rambles - probably the result of an insomnia-induced stream of consciousness - but still true. I have edited it somewhat to make it more coherent.

Dear Mr. Bruno,

I find myself tossing and turning at 4:30 in the morning and wondering why it is that I can’t get back to sleep. It seems that your video, Jimmy Bruno 2, Inside Outside Jazz Guitar has raised some issues for me. I received the video from one of my students and finished watching it last night. You said in your video that you answer all emails. I’m not necessarily expecting a reply, but you gave me hope that you will actually read this. You seem to really care. I appreciate your spirit. But on second thought, I’m prompted to do this by my insomnia, so this may be more for me than you.

I confess that I haven’t seen your first video. It may be that what I have to say is rendered irrelevant by that fact. But here goes anyway.

I understand and appreciate your desire to simplify. I have done much the same thing. It seems we start out playing first, and figure it out, or try to, later. The real problems arise when we become teachers. All of a sudden, things have to be named, things have to be organized, things have to be logical. But I say to myself,

“Self, I didn’t become a player this way, why am I teaching this stuff?”

I was playing professionally before I knew all the theory I know now. To be clear, I'm not knocking learning music theory; knowing the theory vastly improved my content, it notched up my playing by a quantum leap in a short timeframe, but I was already a player before I learned all that stuff.

Why did I write a friggin’ method book for cryin’ out loud?! Well, I wrote the book because no other book that I’ve seen presents things the way I do, and I wrote the book so I wouldn’t have to write everything out for every student, I could make a few bucks, and I had the desire, since I’ve lived and breathed music and the guitar for most of my life, to write down what I know about it. Or maybe I should say, attempt to write down a very small part of the intellectual aspects of what I know. But we both know that that is not what real music is about, don’t we?

One of the things that I’ve discovered as a result of teaching is that it ain’t about the theory. The theory is necessary, but it doesn’t come first. I remember when I first started teaching, I had to ask myself questions like this:

"Self, this here student is playing the right notes at the right time. He’s playing what I showed him accurately. Why do I sound better than he does? Why is it that when I do it it’s music and when he does it, it isn’t? What is it that I’m doing that he isn’t? What is it that I didn't tell him?"

The answer that I came to was - chops. What is “chops”? Answer: technique. Now, we can define good technique – things like economical movement, economical movement, and economical movement. Gaining control of the hands. Things like lots of inflection – extreme dynamics, stressing the right syllable at the right time, a strong sense of phrasing – you know, making it a language. Making it musical. How is this achieved? Answer: watching and listening to guys who can do it and then doing it yourself, doing it yourself, doing it yourself, repetition, repetition, repetition. Just like when you learned to talk. Ever notice you kind of talk like your parents? I can tell you’re from New York, man.

How did you learn to talk? By listening to your parents talk and then doing it back at them. Later, after you could talk, you learned to read and write, and the rules of grammar. And therein lies the rub.

Very few people, very few, have the time and the motivation to do what it takes to get really good; metaphorically speaking, to be able to talk.

Because what it takes is a lot of physical work, work, work. Training muscles, nerves, hand/eye coordination, fine motor control – it’s like being an Olympic athlete. I call it grunt work. The intellectual part is easy – it’s the physical part that takes all the blood, sweat, and tears. The time and the motivation to do the grunt work – that is something that’s not teachable, it just has to be there, and in my experience, maybe one out of 100 students really have it, maybe even less than that. Of those that do have it, most of the time it’s a neurosis, the drive to put in the time and effort is a compensation for something else in the person’s life that’s dysfunctional. BTW – I include myself here. But I’m getting better, I really am!

Now I just happened to notice that you have a lot of chops – more than me for sure. What’s your neurosis? (Just kidding!) Wow, like all those arpeggios and stuff!

You want to “simplify” – all you need is 7 inside notes and 5 outside notes. I understand what you’re saying. But I noticed you were constantly putting Am over C, Dm over C, Db over C, etc etc etc. Now I assume you would say that these are just different ways to organize and arrange the 7 inside notes and the 5 outside notes. I hear you man, but all of a sudden it ain’t so simple anymore.

The intellectual part is simple, I get it, but what about the chops that it takes to do that? That’s hard, man, and there is no shortcut. But that’s the secret. It takes countless hours of repetition, countless hours. I do it too, but getting there took years of playing all day every day.

As far as teaching goes, here’s how I simplify. Minor Pentatonic. But even less than that. THE BOX. Flat 7, root, flat 3rd, 4th.

“Now I’m gonna play a 12-bar blues. You are gonna improvise a solo using these 4 notes. You will use the concepts for phrasing and inflection that I have given you. You must break through your inhibition barrier, get beyond your psychological/emotional recalcitrance and spill your guts. I am safe, I am your teacher, it’s my job to help you help yourself to be a better guitar player. There are no girls here to impress, there are no drunks heckling you. There is only me, and I am on your side. The REAL issue is psycho/emotional. Ready? No? Doesn’t matter, do it anyway. 1 – 2 – 3 – 4........

This doesn’t take a lot of knowledge and it doesn’t take a lot of chops to make music from those 4 notes. What it takes is ego-strength. The REAL issue is psycho/emotional.

All the theoretical knowledge in the world isn’t worth diddly squat if you can’t play 4 notes and make it music. I think you and I are in agreement on that.

If a student has been reading the latest Guitar Player interview with Joe Satriani and just HAS to learn the Lydian Mode I will teach it to them. No problem. Same concepts apply – make it music. But modal playing is generally not the way I play and it’s not the way I think when I play. Incidentally, I met Joe last year and gave him a copy of my book. He looked at the page on double altered ninth chords and said, “Wow, man, this looks hard!” I haven’t heard back from him.

For those students who get a little further down the road and are interested in jazz – well, I show them the way that I do it - but, to reiterate, if you don't have a functional level of chops in place, all this theory stuff won't do you much good.

First, harmonic knowledge is the key. Understanding chords. Being able to deconstruct complex chords into their various 7th chordal and triadic stacks. At the same time, working on triad and 7th chord arpeggios. That’s the hard part. Physically, I mean. If I have arpeggios mastered, if I have lines that are based on arpeggios, whatever I learn harmonically - for instance, flat II dominant is a substitute for V – NOW I can play my D-flat 7 stuff over G7. This implies G7, b9, b5 harmonically.

Now someone else might analyze what I've done as a Lydian-Dominant scale or a mode of the Melodic Minor scale and they would be right, except for the small issue of – that’s not the way I think about it, and I’m the player! Another for instance: Cmaj9 is Emi7 over C. I might play my Emi7 stuff over Cmaj7 thereby implying Cmaj9. Someone might come along later and say that I was playing in the E Phrygian mode and they would be right, except for the small issue of – that’s not the way I think about it, and I’m the player! None of this is “simple.” I like Charlie Parker’s famous quote,

“First, master your instrument, master music, then forget all that bullshit and just play!”

I agree with that – but notice what comes "first"; mastering an instrument is hard, time consuming, and takes an obsessive commitment to get ‘er done – and there’s nothing easy about it. Sometimes I think I’m there, and other times I wonder about myself! I'm always running up against the limit of my chops.

My “inside” notes are the 4 notes of a 7th arpeggio. Everything else is “outside”. Furthermore, I have 2 “hyper-inside” notes. The 3rd and the 7th. Pat Metheny has said,

"There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions.”

I agree. The 3rd and the 7th of whatever the chord is are the primary resolutions and the other 2 chord tones are also “safe” resolutions. However, the 3rd and the 7th are THE definitive chord tones. Especially the 3rd. That’s my basic approach. And EVERYTHING, no matter what my approach is or how I think about it, must be music. As you put it – the melody is the thing.

Furthermore, when I’m onstage, there is very little thinking – in the linear, logical, rational sense – going on. It’s all intuitive, emotional, holistic, visual, and based on pattern recognition. When I’m onstage the thinking has already been done.

Do you know anything about the right brain/left brain understanding of cognition? I have found it to be very helpful in defining and understanding what is going on, what should be going on, when I give a lesson as opposed to when I’m on stage.

As I said, the issues that most people have that keep them from making REAL music are psychological/emotional issues; inhibition, lack of ego-strength and self-confidence problems. They are stuck in a linear, logical mode of thinking and can’t switch over to a right-brain holistic, visual, pattern-recognition-mode of thinking/perception. All good players can make that switch at will. Most of them can’t define what it is that they do.

Well, I have a lot more to say but I’ll stop. I think I can go back to sleep now. Thanks for being who you are. I hope I haven’t pissed you off!

Very Sincerely Yours,

Jay EuDaly


P.S. I never received a response. That's ok; as I said, I wasn't really expecting one. To be honest, I suspect I was projecting and dealing with my own teaching issues. Mr Bruno probably perceived that and deemed a response unnecessary.

No disrespect is intended; I consider Jimmy Bruno a great player and I have the utmost respect for him.


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