#ThrowbackThursday – My First Session

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Left to right: Lee Ritenour, Gary Lee, Vinnie Colaiuta, Richard Bona.

This photo was taken at Lee Ritenour’s recording session for his album Smoke ‘n Mirrors @ Sunset Sound in Hollywood January 2003.  The first big session I got to work at.  I spent 4 days printing and taping charts and rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest musicians of our time.  Not a bad first session, right?!  I remember telling my teachers (not asking) that I would be gone for the next days so I could work these sessions.  Pretty much the best reason ever for a young music student to skip class.  And yeah, I still have (and wear) that track jacket.

Left to Right: Lee Ritenour, Gary Lee, Vinnie Colaiuta, Richard Bona.

Make sure to check out Lee Ritenour’s site.  He’s got a new new album in the works you don’t want to miss.

Recycling Chord Shapes – Do More with Less

Joe Pass is one of my favorite guitarists.  One reason I love his playing is that he does so much with so little.  There’s a great teaching video series in which Joe explains the importance of not overthinking in music.  He wants to make it as simple as possible in his mind.  Here’s my favorite quote from that video.

I don’t believe in playing anything that’s real hard.  If it’s real hard, forget it! – Joe Pass

chalk drawing and photo by the lovely Roopa Lee - @roopseydaisy

Chalk drawing by the lovely Roopa Lee – @roopseydaisy

I love that!  I hate working harder than I need to.  If it works for Joe, maybe it can work for us.  In this post I’m going to show you how to increase your chord knowledge 5x, not by working harder, but through recycling chord shapes you already know.

Gary’s Dead Simple Easy Guide to Have Fun in NYC in 3 Days

I don’t care what anyone says, I love being a tourist! I’m always immensely grateful whenever I have the opportunity to travel and see a new place.  Last week was my first time in New York City.  I went to perform with the young piano star, Ethan Bortnick, at the APAP conference (check him out if you haven’t yet).


I was definitely “that guy” in awe of all the bright lights in Times Square, the guy trying for the perfect artsy B/W shot of the subway, and the guy struggling to figure out the metro-card machine.  But it’s okay, that’s what you do when is your first time… let the over-posting on Instagram commence, right?

First 2 Weeks Touring with Ethan Bortnick

It’s been a pleasure touring and getting to know the great young entertainer, Ethan Bortnick.  At only 13 years old, Ethan tours the world as a pianist/songwriter, starred in his own movie, has the current #1 rated PBS TV special, and has raised over $30 million for charities.  Not bad for 13.


My good friend, Ryan Skiles has been Ethan’s music director for several years now and asked me to join the current tour playing bass.  We just finished up 2 weeks of touring playing 6 U.S. shows and it’s been a blast.  Next week we leave for another 5 weeks for a dozen more shows around the U.S.  Glee star, Damian McGinty has also been on the tour as a special guest.  He’s an amazing vocalist and it’s been great to work and get to know him as well.

Adding Value Reminder Emails

I decided to create a 13 Week Email Reminder Series to help myself (and anyone else who wants to join me) be better at developing professional relationships.  It’s based on a post called, Networking, Relationship Building, and Adding Value.  I wrote it to help people rethink what it looks like to network, especially in music business.

It’s about adding value to one another and asking less often.  That’s how relationships are built and that’s what networking really looks like.  Those with whom you have great relationships with are the ones who will be hiring you or recommending you.

Creating Beautiful Music Charts. Plus Free Sibelius Template.

I create a lot of charts. I make them when I’m preparing for gigs or for other musicians’ recording sessions or live shows. It’s something that I have come to enjoy because it’s such a great way of improving your ear.  And there’s just something special about having beautiful looking charts of your music printed out, taped and ready to go.

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Sometimes it can make or brake a project. Having your music organized, well thought out, and prepared gives you clarity as a music director, producer, or even just as a musician who needs to memorize the set.

Making charts can be a huge pain though. Fooling with software, printers, and PDFs are a nightmare. In this post I want to walk you through my process of making a beautiful professional charts quickly and easily. Sibelius is the software I use, but the principles are transferrable to any program or even to pencil and paper. Simply having a process is key.

Networking, Relationships, and Adding Value

One of my favorite satirical twitter accounts is chock-full of wonderfully hilarious passive aggressive tweets about being a “humble” working musician.  Here are a few of my favorites…

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What I love about these tweets is that first off, they’re hilarious, and secondly, we’ve all been there.  We’ve all posted similar stuff ourselves at some point and called it “networking.”  I know I have.  But there’s a better way.  What networking really looks like is building meaningful relationships through adding value.

I’m going to show you 13 ways of adding value to those around you that will deepen relationships.  And at the end of this post, I’m going to give you a way to be reminded weekly with specific examples of ways to add value to those interact with online and off.

The Value of Learning By Ear

One of the single best exercises I’ve engaged in as a musician has been learning by ear.  Whether it’s a chord progression, a rhythm, a song, an improvised solo, or a cool riff, the act of figuring something out by ear causes you learn and understand at a much deeper level.

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Musicians who have developed great “ears” have transcribed a ton of music.  They may not have physically written it all down on paper, but they have gone through the process of listening and discovering for themselves what is going on.

I want to encourage you to make this a habit in your own life.  Try this…

How to Break Free of “Position” Playing – Part 2

Welcome back!  This is Part 2 on how to break free of “position” playing on guitar.  If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.

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Here’s a quick recap.

Part 1 was all about becoming intentional about breaking through that stuck feeling created by relying solely on positions and patterns.  To do that, I suggested ignoring positions and patterns altogether, limiting yourself to 1 and 2 strings, and playing much more vertically on the guitar.

These techniques helped me immensely and I almost immediately started seeing improvements. I began caring much less about about what position, scale pattern, or fingering I was using.  A great start.  To take this concept to the next level, we’ll be reintroducing scale patterns in a way that works for you and not against you.

How to Create Your Own Chord Book

Have you ever seen those guitar chord dictionaries at guitar center?  You know, the ones titled something like “3,001 Guitar Chords.”  I always cringe when I see these because there’s such a more valuable way of learning about chords and harmony on guitar.

Scan from one of my homemade chord books.  With coffee stains and all

[Scan from one of my homemade chord books.  With coffee stains and all]

When I got my first guitar at 10 years old, I would sit in my room and literally guess at what frets to press on and see what kind of sounds I could make.  Most were bad at first, but I starting learning about the different combinations of sounds and how they worked together.  I really believe it was that early tinkering that set me on a great learning path in music.  It was like a fun puzzle to figure out.

That playful attitude is still what I strive for today.  Chord dictionaries, to me, don’t really encourage this.  It’s like trying to have a conversation in a new language by relying on a dictionary.  It’s much more effective to learn the most common words, a little grammar, and then just start speaking.  You’ll discover quickly what doesn’t work, what does, and most importantly – why.

How To Break Free of “Position” Playing – Part 1

One night in college during a jazz improv class, I had a mini-breakdown in front of my teacher and some fellow students.  I was discouraged and frustrated that despite all my practicing, I was still struggling to get the music I heard in my head down to my fingers and onto the fretboard.

How to Break Free Part 1

I kept getting lost on my guitar, jumping from position to position trying to find the right notes.  Positions and scale patterns became a crutch for me.  It was my default, and it was hindering my progress as a guitarist.  I wanted to play more expressively, but I didn’t know how to get there.

6 Benefits of Over-Preparing For Your Next Gig

A few weeks ago, I put in a significant amount prep and practice for what turned out to be a pretty relaxed 2 hour gig.  Looking back, I probably could have survived doing much less, but I’m glad I didn’t.

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I don’t always do this, but I was feeling a little extra pressure knowing that I would be the only chordal instrument (bass/gtr duo).  Covering both the melodic and harmonic roles can be challenging for most guitarists, including myself, so I put in some extra time.

I knew I was probably over-preparing, but as I started to dig in, I found myself really enjoying working on the music.  In addition to simply enjoying the work, I believe there are many benefits to making over-preparation a habit whenever possible.  Here are 6 that I’ve found.