If you can feel it, you might as well try it!

To quote a great inspiration to me and probably most of you (more about him later) : “If you can feel it, you might as well try it”.

But first, I want to recall a story from when I used to share lyric duties for a band some years back. Our vocalist, whose written English was better than mine, used to ask me how did I manage to come up with what in his opinion where better lyrics than his. My answer used to be that what I presented to the band would be the 5th or 6th draft, as in actual fact, I would have written down and corrected a lot. With every draft, I would let the words talk to me as a piece of art themselves, seaving the horseshit from the gold in a bunch of hay if you will.

How I differed from him was that I never expected amazing lyrics to come out at my 1st attempt, but would rather let the good parts shine through the bad parts as I re-read them over and over again. Guess I was doing nothing that a novelist would not do when writing a book, and as soon as he applied that approach, we were now both writing amazing lyrics!

Similarly, let us now bring this to the table of how to become a good improviser, which we all know is music made on the spot without time to allow oneself for drafts. But in actual fact, drafts do happen, in our practice time before taking the stage. So what I generally suggest to my students is –


Time and time again, I have found that this approach has made them understand that the fire only burns the 1st time, and once you know how to walk it without getting burnt, it will become fun every time. And it works! Every time without fail.

So now to the quote above, taken from leading guitarist Mr Joe “Satch” Satriani!

With “If you can feel it, you might as well try it” what Satch is telling us is that after hours of training and singing scales (your drafts), melodies and fingerings become sort of attached to each other with less effort. So when you are actually creating music on the spot, whatever you hear in your head can be translated onto your fingers. Be adventurous!

The main thing is knowing how and where to resolve, purposely repeating “mistakes” before resolving. The safe move for this is to always play a semi-tone up or down to find the note that sounds right (within the key), as explained in detail via my related blogs www.malcolmcallus.com/fingerboard and www.malcolmcallus.com/jazz.

Meanwhile, I let you off with good old Satch doing some explaining himself …..

Modern approaches to guitar, bass & music theory tuition
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The 1st time it’s a mistake, the 2nd time it’s jazz

“The 1st time it’s a mistake, the 2nd time it’s jazz” is a saying that goes around among musicians, particularly among solo players. But what is this saying about, and what is its importance?

As a musician, I constantly improvise. As a tutor, I constantly showcase how to improvise. How? For me it all boils down to one thing – approaching fire with fire! In other words, giving the student the confidence that the sooner he/she walks the fire (i.e. starts to solo), the sooner the fire will not burn any more (everything becomes easier once you try it).

A point I love during lessons is that the moment I teach a student a scale, I immediately give them a backing track and tell them to start playing the notes not in series, to be free, to play anything whether it makes sense or not. Both student & I know that they need to go back home and practise that scale in alternate/economy picking vs a metronome to brush it up both visually and rhythmically, however we ignore that point, we stop thinking too much and get on with it! The point here is to improvise (which is singing with your instrument actually) and as everyone has sung before in their life (shower or breakfast singing counts!), it is by nature that they find their way. The subconscious is a big boy, we all know more than we think we do, so just play and it works sooner rather than later. Make no illusions, it will start as crap, but the more you do it the ratio of hay:gold will soon go from 9:1 to 0:10.

But anyway the point here is not how to start soloing, but for any of you reading this that have been soloing for a while (maybe in the simpler way explained hereunder) who would like to know what happens when for some reason they hit a ‘wrong’ note, a note that does not harmonically fit with the backing chordal accompaniment. So back to our idiom – the 2nd time it’s jazz! What happens then?jazz

Repeat the ‘wrong’ note! And many times (at least 4, or 5-6 as the pic says). There is a style how to do this of course, so keep reading…………

In a band, there are 3 ways how to improvise

1. the simplest way – you know the chords being played by the rhythm section (as a band you rehearsed the songs and probably also know the other guitarist’s notes, if not also the bassist’s, + you know the drummer’s patterns, when the vocalist comes in & what note, and more or less the keyboard notes too). So there you go – you have worked already what scale to use, and off you go!

2. a still simple way – let us say you have not rehearsed, but are jamming for the 1st time directly live with some musicians. They have been so great to give you a chord chart of the song, so after all you will not know all other musicians’ parts, but more or less the chord chart will indicate what the other guitarist/keyboardist shall be playing. And that is enough for you to choose the scale to be used when it comes to the solo section.

3. the more advanced musical way (not necessarily a hard way) that occurs when you jam with musicians live for the 1st time and they DO NOT give you a chord chart and nor state the key – you are simply put there out in the fire, and you have to deal with it! With experience this is not difficult, so here is to how build that experience! You basically go on stage, keep your guitar volume down, and start hearing others’ chords to get the gist of it while playing some notes (just as you would start murmuring before singing)! Then you put the volume up and continue listening to those chords on the spot, and this way you will solo using right notes without the need of knowing the chord harmonization (as above).

But one might argue if they should be listening out to all intervals within a chord (just as one would do in aural tests in guitar exams) to thus decide which notes within the scale to use. Which becomes too much work at every bar and takes out the fun and fire out of soloing!

Absolutely not! In a jam scenario, you just play and when you strike a note out of the chord (the ‘wrong’ note), you just move a semitone up or down. One does not need to know why it works (if you do, check out my ear training & theory course Know It Hear It!), but it works. As when you do, you are giving an illusion to the listeners of changing key. So to ensure that illusion strikes home effectively, just repeat that wrong note a couple of more times  and then return back to the ‘right’ notes (not necessarily in order, but you could go to a ‘right’ note and return to the ‘wrong’ one some more times – the possibilities are endless).

Believe me, that when you manage to overcome this fear, and that you simply go for it, it is not burning fire if you know how to walk that fire, but sweet fire of music passion! For all who need to see to believe, we would not have Surrealism nowadays (and with it all those amazing out-worldly artworks on some vinyls you own) if Dali had not started seeing things differently than the ‘right’ rules of the time!

So, to recap, how to deal with wrong notes when they happen?

That could happen at a gig when a couple of hot women dance dirty a few feet away from you (or any other reason anyway) not ? You can loose track of which song we are doing, the tempo, the key, … Naughty boy! When that happens, you have not been paying attention to one, two, or all of these:

  1. What are you playing?
  2. What is everyone else playing?
  3. How is what you are playing fitting in with what everyone else is?

This listening list includes the notes you’re choosing, the phrasing you’re choosing and how loudly you’re playing.

So if at any time you notice the band is getting shaky, go through this list to ensure it’s not you, and if not identify who it is and do what is possible to tighten up the band. Maybe playing the same wrong notes that the other band member is playing? After all this is what makes live music so beautiful, – how it always differs from the recorded songs!

Music, and in particular, improvisation is a listening art! So remember to always listen with your ears not your eyes. Because those hot women can distract your eyes but not your ears 🙂

Suggested related reading – http://www.malcolmcallus.com/fingerboard/

Modern approaches to guitar, bass & music theory tuition
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Change your Burger Sauce

Onto breaking rules, this article does not follow in the lines of any of my previous threads, but is my music business contribution one can get by signing up for the free teachmusic.co.uk mailing list….. now onto our burger sauce!

It is safe to assume that a good 9 of 10 guitar players started out hearing some other player’s music, what turned them to the guitar in the 1st place. What makes each of them prefer one or more music styles over others is their very pre-exposure to their fave genres which even form comfort zones within their minds regarding what to expect out of music, and hence the very reason why one prefers the subtleness of a nylon string performance over the more fiery chainsaw playing used in early industrial music, or vice-versa, and any sound in between that the different forms of axes may produce. At some stage, guitarists then turn to lessons and to us as educators.

As educators we play the foremost role of capturing our students’ dreams, aiding them in their quest to turn them into reality. For most it might just be to interpret some cover songs at their local pub or at a family bbq, but for others getting their name out there just as their idols before them is the name of the game. And this is where music itself takes a back seat and the actual business mind is to be called to the forefront.

guitar_awesome_sauce_postcard-r7b82062ffc0743f49ea866017d3a8abd_vgbaq_8byvr_324For a moment, imagine one runs a worldwide take-away food franchise. Ask yourself if it was love for fast-food that made you start, and probably your answer has nothing to do with burgers & chips than with the opportunity of a fruitful long-term business. Which makes one observe that while musicians have way progressed from just playing their instruments well to learning more about backline, accessories & sound (from choice of strings, electronics, effects & amps to producing, sound engineering & mixing), some still do not recognize the extent it would benefit them if they put their hands on actually promoting their name.

Not via cheap or free routes the Internet nowadays provides, but in actually financially investing in their product to see it hit off the ground.

To return to the take-away concept, it might be less satisfactory running a junk-food franchise than playing music, yet look at the way they run forward – every now and again they change bread, add a sauce or whatever, thus making a new menu out of it. In other words, they create opportunities for themselves. Easy to them nowadays after so many years of success, but in their humble beginnings, there definitely was lots of investment (maybe at a loss of money, but close to surely at a loss of time). So why does it turn out that sometimes musicians do not tend to see the opportunities ahead of them, figure even create new ones? After all musicians are doing what they like most, playing their instrument, so one probes if, by logic, promoting oneself should only come as 2nd nature, same as owning professional gear to sound good! Needless to say, playing music brings a higher satisfaction than selling take-away food not? 🙂

The point comes in the conclusion. The music industry (as any other) runs on the expectancy that nothing rains free from the sky, but anything has to be worked for. As educators, we are to foster such a way forward in our students, at least the most ambitious. This will pave itself in our students managing their time even further as they start thinking more as self-employed dogs in a world of many more competing for the same bone! I once read in an innovations management blog that “If the tree cannot be moved, a new route has to be found”. This is an area that musicians – educators and performers alike – might like to look into.

Modern approaches to guitar, bass & music theory tuition
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The fingerboard – the be all, maybe even end all!


In whatever country we live, that is the very act we cannot do without on a daily basis. Even if we spend a day alone at home, we end up more than once speaking to ourselves.

The very skill of associating pronunciations to single letters, and how their sound may vary according to their placement in words of our own mother tongue, became innate with ourselves from the very moment of our inception, if not earlier inside our mother’s womb. And daily we use this very skill to communicate opinions to others, presuming – maybe by a good abundance of hypothesis – that the listening party will understand everything exactly as we mean it. Yet when this often results otherwise, we speak again to explain further. Daily, constantly and effortlessly we use speech to explain ourselves.

Now let us bring this to the guitarist world. The fingerboard is our alphabet; the scales, rhythms, chords, voicings, etc the very tools to put letters together to form words, which form sentences (including conjunctions etc.) that form both short and long paragraphs – all joint together to express our opinions in a clear way.

As musicians, at some point in our education we learn the theoretical knowledge that defines what scale may be used and when, and as lead players when presented with a chord chart we recall a multitude of scale patterns that fit. Presented with some one else’s opinions (compare your chord chart to this very blog for a moment), we react to what we are reading by adding our opinions (by adding your own thoughts to my opinions here as you read along, by adding melodic licks and improvising while reading a chord chart). How? By recalling and playing around scale patterns that fit.

That is one way, and a successful one. Yet have you ever considered the maybe more primordial approach of totally forgetting the patterns learnt. Here we go – let us start breaking the rules!

Guitar Fingerboard, Cool Gool Music LondonApproach the fretboard only as a series of notes and if, for example, the key chosen is G major (having only one sharp being F), then apply an A-B-C-D-E-F#-G alphabet across the fingerboard, free of any patterns. All you have at your disposal is this flashy fingerboard with each fret representing a note. Feel free to play all notes as naturals except your Fs that have to be #. You are more than likely to be using scale shapes you have learnt, but you are not thinking of them – you are thinking only of letters! And this is what gives you the freedom a growing child has when unaware of grammar mistakes, a freedom that paves a more adventurous explorative path.

Speak! Play whatever you hear in that inner ear of yours – it is an opinion and it can only get better by speaking it out, getting feedback about its presentation from others, even your own self on hearing it back. This is how solo playing and phrasing is improved. Learning by doing! Think less scalar, think more phrasal.

You get politicians the world over speak bull for a career and still making a name in history, so why not with us musicians whose words, speech, and opinions are of a higher value?

As the Romantic playwright Victor Hugo once wrote “Music is that which cannot be silenced”, so speak as this world is nicer with more melodies!

Modern approaches to guitar, bass & music theory tuition

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The discourse of musicology and timbre

  1. How was it possible for Beethoven to create music well after he turned deaf?
  2. What was the very fact that made the rumble of bass-guitar-voice-drums that was The Sex Pistols appeal so highly to music researchers from a scientific point of view?
  3. What makes an experienced journalist write about music without being a musician the same way you and I recognize the contrasting tastes of two different chocolate cakes, despite neither of us have the culinary expertise to break down their composition as a chef would?


Creativity always having been the epicenter of what I consider makes an artist, innovations to one’s music allow its listeners more anchor points to experience it differently out of “the musician’s box”.

Hence, the above, similar and others, are some of the many questions & answers I approach throughout this blog, as to convey a sense of looking at music composition not only from a chords’ & scales’ point of view, but further!

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