‘Unfolding’ – Coming Soon – The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra

This is an EP of four compositions. All recorded Live. To be released EARLY DECEMBER

Stolen Lines and Amygdala were recorded live at Real World Studios for Audio-Technica. Splicer and The Chine were recorded and filmed live at Absolute Music in Dorset.

The pieces all feature me (yup!) on guitar with; Ben Taylor (Double Bass), Arthur (Electronics), David Youngs (Hand Pan and Woodpack drum) Harkiret Singh-Bahra (Tabla) and Andy Chapman (Drums).

Its been a long time coming. I’ve been working away with some of these guys for a good two years. I’ve been Particularly spurred on from the Guitar Revolution project and from working with everyone in the orchestra (people are good) its been a creative time. I’ve had an opportunity to leave some of the less creative parts of being a musician behind recently, and I guess I’ve never felt so focused on making music that’s orchestral at heart.

The tracks are undoubtedly dark, the choice of playing them live is very deliberate. I hope these recordings capture us all at our best and most expressive.

On release of the EP and all the full videos I’ll be delving into the tracks in an in-depth way, and how they were recorded sine this was not just about chords, rhythms and harmonies; it was one hell of sonic journey too working with one of the most innovative microphone companies (Audio-Technica) on earth and working in a truly out if this world studio (Real World Studios).

For now, I wanted to leave you with our first video release of Stolen Lines performed Live in the Wood Room at Real World. As well as of course an album taster. (If the video hasn’t loaded CLICK HERE)


Thanks for listening. Before ya go I wanted to extend a massive thank you to lots of wonderful people including, everyone one of the Orchestra members you gentlemen are all true gents, stunning musical beings and an inspiration to me. Tim at Audio-Technica for being one of the most amazing communicators I’ve worked with and of course his team of fantastic people and fantastic mics. Ollie at Real World Studios for being such a great engineer. Dan Henry and Mark Harris for making sound and look great at Absolute Music. Jordan at Red Pepper PR for being so generous and a general legend. Jess for the stunning artwork. Christian and David for amazing mixing and putting up with OCD ears. And David Holder for the epic mastering. Thank you to you for reading this far….

Thank you one and all

more soon
C

Chris Woods Groove Orchestra Rehearsals Pt 2

This extract of the blog delves into how I have been communicating my ideas to the rest of the orchestra…as we work towards recording.

One of the best/worst/most interesting challenges of getting a band together…or ‘Orchestra’ as I like to think of it is communicating your ideas. I come from more of a contemporary/rock/jazz/pop background and the usual way of things is ‘heres the song’ and let players go crazy!

This time things are different, I’ve really tried to approach this project in a more orchestral way, composing with different instruments in mind, at the same time as recognising the strengths of the musicians who join. So how do you go about composing specific parts for other instruments when you cant play that instrument…did someone say notation?

‘Notation?!? oh my god!…you mean dots and all that rubbish!??! – surely without the magical skill of reading music I wont be able to do this?!’

Now, I’m not really a ‘reader’. I have never really had the need, and groove, swing and feel always seem so distant from the score not to mention the whole changing tuning thing. I also have some pretty strong feelings on the teaching of it to children – notation really has got in the way of some good common musical sense… (see my Jimi Hendrix blog).

I admittedly have a good grasp of reading rhythms, but as far as sight reading goes its something I don’t practice so I don’t do well. But it really hasn’t put me off and I don’t think it should put you off either… I use Guitar pro. Its an amazing programme and really helps in creating your ideas. By using the TAB function, writing parts for cello or double bass are easy and importantly you can HEAR what you create… so with a bit of trial and error you can compose something quite stunning with very minimal reading ability! thank you Guitar Pro!!!

I know there are a host of similar options; but I think what is important here is how we can now just intuitively tweak a score with very little knowledge, quite literally play until its what you want it to be  – Giving you the ability to pass on information in a range of ways and bring those stuffy and slightly redundant dots to life with some creative dabling. Interesting…hmmm…

Below is an extract from the score I have for a recent work in progress. Just guitar and double bass. The main theme worked out…and then I let Ben Taylor work his magic.  You can listen to the recording/video here…

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It works a treat, and once again the abillity to hear what you are creating is mega powerful. As a contemporary acoustic player, writing the melodies and riffs on other instruments is amazingly liberating too. I find the textural difference amongst instruments is so much more exciting than trying to squeeze it all into one guitar part.

Refering back to a far older track Amygdala part two, which you can listen to here, I used the same process. And as you can see from the music below, the TAB function makes it really clear as to what is possible to be played…

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Ultimately, this has been a really exciting journey for me as some of you may have seen as the CWGO has grown over the past two years. The main lesson I have learnt here that I’m keen to pass on is how technology really is such an amazing tool when it comes to orchestrating, and also the balance between sticking to written parts and building on what the player has to offer. With regard to technology, I think we can safely say it is facilitating a new inclusiveness, giving people the tools to access worlds that used to be and perhaps are still ‘exclusive’. With regard to other players I have to say so many of the musicians I have worked with in the orchestra always have an amazing idea to offer that I would never have thought of…that balance of ideas is the nirvana of orchestration in my mind, the ability to create an overall piece with a feel, themes and structures but being open to fresh ideas from other creative people….I guess in some ways that’s what is making this orchestra that bit different. I wonder without these new technological aids, would this kind of thinking be possible?

Chris Woods Groove Orchestra Rehearsals Pt1

So… Rehearsals…I thought it might be interesting to share the process a bit. who knows…ya might just be interested.

With a new group of amazing players together we are working hard, and hurtling towards recording and filming. Today I was working with Ben, just me and him focusing on bringing the best out of ‘us’. Ben Taylor was our double bass player for the Guitar Revolution tour…and this guy is sticking around, we regularly drink together which has undoubtedly helped our playing… He lives locally to me and we’ve been meeting up regularly and really really getting stuck into the details… there is nothing I enjoy more than working on the detail.

Here are two full videos from the rehearsal, a new tune which I would love to hear your thoughts on and ‘Saol’ which anyone who has seen me recently will have heard, we’ve been working on the nuances for this bad boy for a while, it feels like its getting there…

Saol

NEW TUNE IDEA!

Guitar Revolution: Politics Is Not The Only Way

Politics is not the only vehicle of change…

Just after the brexit vote announcement I launched Guitar Revolution…a project thats aim was simply to form pop-up guitar orchestras around the country to play one of my compositions.

Now, the timing was coincidental really; I’ve always been fascinated by the role of community in music, those of you who know me personally will know that actually the majority of my adult life has been focused around those two things – I also like donuts, walks in the park and John Grisham novels ;). So Brexit wasn’t the driving force, this project did not have any allegiance to leave or remain (and don’t worry this is not a blog about Brexit). But nevertheless, guitar revolution was riding on a wave of Brexitness. 

Since then, as Guitar Revolution jetted (in a white diesel van) around the country forming pop-up guitar orchestras, all manner of political bizarreness has occurred. Of course most recently we are witnessing a whole new level of political insanity….

Now as I said this blog isn’t about Brexit and nor really is it about my political standing, although you can probably take a guess at what I voted for. This blog is instead about how important it is to remember the ‘real’ stuff. How your role in community is even more important than that one vote you have… Crazy, I know! 

This Guitar Revolution project showed me that your real actions really are so much louder than words or Facebook posts.  We engaged with thousand of people across the country and built a collective orchestra of hundreds. These actions are so much louder than Facebook rants and drunken arguments in the pub that result in a hangover of lost friends and upset egos. Continued below….

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Here are three points from that experience, that I believe are worth a read:

Number one, ‘Actions – this is not going to be easy’…

 Ive got plenty of experience of trying to bring people together in a musical context and it never gets any easier, I’m not sure it gets harder, but definitely not easier. The human race are a funny bunch.The general public are majoritively quite resistant to getting together for anything less  in size than a political rally, football match or an adele concert. Something that is mainstream and massively controlled, the idea of venturing out for a socio-musical experiment to play a minimalist piece of music, organised and composed by a scruffy guitarist from the west country is apparently not on the average brits list of priorities. Its seemingly niche, which is a shame because I was hoping the revolution would be relatively mainstream. Disappointing, I know!?!?!…..but hey, it just meant we had to work harder.

Number two ‘ Louder! – there is a reason we are scared of getting together’…

It takes a lot of energy and ultimately bravery to come and join a group of strangers to play music. It takes a lot of energy and bravery to join a group of strangers to do anything. Aside from the usual ego risks that playing music comes with it, it comes as a disruption to a busy schedule, it comes with all manner of social anxieties or pre-conceptions. Ultimately the idea of getting together with strangers to play music is powerful in a positive way but comes with powerful challenges too. As life increases in complexity and difficulty the idea of breaking out of that gets harder…Just like the idea of breaking from your normal comfort zone and views. I gotta be honest, if I was invited to join a pop-up guitar orchestra, I may well be the first to bottle it.

Number three…. ‘Words – The results of actions like this are far more positive than angry Facebook posts’…

There’s a simplicity to all of this, something I touched upon in my first blog. The simplicity of gathering people together to play. In this case it was gathering people together to do something different. Now in these crazy political times, of constant bombardment of ‘facts’ and strong view points the abstract simplicity of playing guitar together might seem like a token act of togetherness, but Im quite convinced that it is actually far more than that. (I would like to point out, I fully support your Facebook rants too)

Im not claiming that after each performance of guitar revolution, people spent hours discussing with others, rationally debating their political views. Im pretty sure no-one mentioned politics once or, in fact, the future of humanity. But! It did this…. and this is something I think we all need to focus on more than ever. 

….It got people out of their comfort zone, it got people out of Rupert Murdochs comfort zone and made people feel welcome and part of something positive, peaceful and original….something that was about being together not attacking others. Something vibrant and inquisitive…its a foundation of confidence to question the world around you.

For everyone on this messed up little island, being open minded, peaceful, and social is key to helping us progress. Whatever your political views, being social, community minded and open is the key to getting along, moving forward and generally not descending into being a country of absolute morons. Getting behind something musical is massively uniting. There are no ‘facts’ or view points, there is only the music. Because really, everyone wants the same thing. Don’t they?…

So, go and create something…  bring people together. Show the world that together is better. Do something! Organise a gig, get some people together to do something creative and pointless…something that is for nothing more than breaking the monotony of modern life and reminding us that we are human and we are here to laugh, dance, sing and share our smiles. 

Building A Guitar Revolution Part 4: We did it!

So, The Guitar Revolution tour has come to an end. After an over subsribed launch at the London Olympia in september 2016, we took the concept on the road in early 2017. Visiting 7 Cities across the UK, bringing together hundreds of players to form our epic pop-up guitar Orchestra’s to play the piece Guitar Revolution.

A huge and heartfelt thank you to Martin Guitars for powering us and making it possible. All the amazing and world class guest acts who played such inspirational sets and put so much effort into reaching out into the wider community. The players who joined us and ultimately made the magic happen and of course all the audience memebers who helped create such amazing atmospheres at the shows… there is so many more, you know who you are, thank you. 🙂

Below you can enjoy a few live video’s of our performances and more…

 

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Building a Guitar Revolution Part 3: Rehearsals Begin

This is the third part of a blog about ‘Guitar Revolution‘ you can read the other parts by clicking here Part I, or Part II…or you can just enjoy this blog post on its own.

In this episode I’ll be looking at our first rehearsal sessions, and explaining a little about the journey to creating The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra .

The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra has been a work in progress since 2015. Don’t take too much from the phrase ‘work-in progress’ though – I see everything I do as a work in progress, I think its a great way to be. It helps me to handle the polarising swings from crippling self doubt to awe inspiring arrogance 😉 we all suffer from that as an artist and if you say you don’t, I imagine you might be pretending…

The word arrogance might be a little strong though, perhaps more feeling ‘proud’, yes proud. There are moments of pride, interspersed with that more familiar self doubt. Constantly evolving and moving, helps you to accept that; being creative is just a process, not a product.

The band itself is an ever evolving group of players.The guitar players for ‘guitar revolution’, who are key members of the CWGO, are very much evolving to an extreme extent…I never know who will turn up. The ‘foundation’ members though, (those who play through the whole set) are a lot more plan-able, although they have also gone through various changes.

We’ve had a mix of line ups for different tunes, including hang drum, tabla ,double bass, and even in amygdala part II with drums, cello and piano. Its been a fascinating journey and my approach has evolved drastically….(And just because you dont see it now, doesnt mean you wont see it again!)

I wanted to get a band together for this Guitar Revolution tour that really was focused on the idea of ‘Guitar revolution’…

Something that would push some boundaries, try some new approaches and inspire the audience, something that would compliment our revolutionary pop-up guitar orchestra.

Increasingly over the past year I have been performing with ‘Arthr’ in the CWGO line up…and the work that we are creating together has evolved into something exciting, something that is perfect for these GR shows. You should at this point check out what ‘Arthr’ creates with his blend of animation and electronics to get an idea of ‘Arthr’s pedigree. Our work together is based on the idea of being ‘orchestral’ or ‘symphonic’ and working together in unison to create an ‘interactive symbiotic cinematic explosion’…(sorry got a little carried away there with the ‘pride’ side if things.Ill balance it out later)…

In other words…

‘Arthr’ takes a feed from my guitar and manipulates the sounds I produce to create immense textures. A lot of sounds are completely unrecognisable from the guitar, but the vast majority started life as a vibration in my Martin 000×1.

We’ve been honing it for months, we’ve performed a few english dates together and headed over to Ireland in May last year for a few shows to really try things out (its often best to try out new things abroad, not sure why)……here’s a very early clip from our first rehearsals…..

It really excites me the sounds we are creating. It feels different and unexpected….exactly what I wanted. Theres an interaction between us that is even deeper than your usual musical exchange. I can only describe it has having a conversation with someone who manipulates your words…no wait, thats pretty negative…erm…I’ll think of another analogy soon.

Of course there are practicalities involved in this stuff too….I would love to have hang, tabla, drums, cello, bass, electronics blah blah but of course there is a financial reality…but also one thing I have learnt during the past year of taking the band out on the road is how differently a band sound is communicated live – Its a practical reality, live sound is louder, bigger and seemingly more overwhelming than listening to recorded sound. My current opinion, and this will of course change, is that recorded sound has far more scope for complexity but live performance demands more simplicity… Im not sure why exactly, but Ive really found a trio is perfect. Crazy as it might sound but I feel we are creating an orchestral sound best, as a trio… I know it seems like a contradiction, but come check out a show to see. So, who’s the third player? Well, aside from electronic manipulation from ‘Arthr’ I have chosen to bring in bring in the big guns…. double bass to be precise.

For this tour Im working with two different double bass players. Joe Limburn and Ben Taylor, both jazz playing pro’s. Its an absolute pleasure to work with both of them….

I love the double bass. I love the depth, the versatility. Its so outrageously orchestral….



Building a Guitar Revolution Part 2: Apathy and Emails



In these ‘Guitar Revolution’ blogs I promised to give a little insight into the process of setting this up, a kind of journal…an honest reflection. Here is the second instalment:

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working away, usually in front of a computer, trying to make good stuff happen. Turns out when trying to create a conceptual piece of music that brings together one and all, you will have to email, email and then email some more. Its been hard, but its been good. I only wish I didn’t always have to be on a ruddy computer all the time….I mean, Im meant to be a musician!?!?!

So… whats happened recently? What has the happy blend of hard work from a host of helpful people and my many mildly miserable hours of emailing actually achieved? …well, quite a bit actually. Here’s a list:

1.We have sponsorship from Martin Guitars, which as I briefly mentioned in the last instalment is an insanely cool thing. Aside from their support its great to be associated with a company that has a progressive, green and people focused ideas at the heart of what they do. Thank you Martin Guitars!

2. Sean DeBurca has finished the design, which you can see at the bottom of the page, and Im sure you’ll agree its insanely cool. Physical posters are on their way!!! 🙂 🙂 Thanks for all your input during the design process folks.

3.Dates for leg one of the tour are up and ready! View them here and reserve your tickets now…

3.Several workshops in schools/colleges have been confirmed. Great news for spreading the word. We could do with more to really reach the wider community, can ya help?

4.Various exciting artists confirmed for guest slots. Names to be announced very soon. They’re all world class and are gonna make the shows so very special!!! – they will also be playing a part in helping to get players together for Guitar Revolution. I was overwhelmed by offers after putting a frankly awkward video out of me rambling on and asking for acts. I think the frequency of responses may have been partly due to me mentioning it was paid? – Im not sure. Anyway, its great to have so many people in touch. We do still have a slot or two to fill, so if you’re local to a date get in touch.

5.Guitar tutors are getting on board. This is a crucial one…. its a no brainer really, so if you are a guitar teacher, get involved. Ive only managed to contact a handful out of the thousands of you, so please save me some email time and get in touch. You can teach the parts and get in touch to let us know you’re doing it. It’s cool to hear from so many already to say ‘you’re doing it’ and ‘no thanks’ is fine too… although shocking to have some responses like ‘oh, they don’t practice anyway, so my students wont be interested’…I mean, seriously??? I despair sometimes I really do!

6.The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra line up for these shows is coming together too, we head into the rehearsal studio from the end of this month. Exciting new sounds itching to be heard.

So thats the main developments over the past couple of weeks, which aint too bad when I look back.

The general process has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster though…the responses have been quite extreme in polarity, its usually ‘yes wow! yes yes please!’ or a an extremely apathetic and negative response. Now Im not going to get into the trap of believing anyone who says ‘no’ to getting involved is ‘apathetic’, but in all honesty it seems especially when it came to approaching guitar teachers there really was a shocking amount of apathy amongst those who didn’t want to be involved…an often genuinely ‘discouraging’ response, rather than a simple ‘thanks but no thanks’. Which is a little crazy, but hey! thankfully there is a huge bank of inspirational teachers already involved, and many more to come Im sure. So get in touch guitar teachers! …apart from the apathetic ones….unless this brief blog has inspired some kind of life changing explosion of energy and inspiration, in which case I would love to hear from you too. Actually, thinking about it, you wouldn’t get in touch anyway if you were apathetic would you? 🙂

Aside from the knock backs its still overwhelmingly positive….massive thanks to every single one of you is already involved, and thanks in advance to those who will be.

cheeers
C
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Building a Guitar Revolution Part1: Start at the Beginning

This is part 1 of a series of blogs, of journals, recording the journey of ‘Guitar Revolution’. If you don’t know what ‘Guitar Revolution’ is; here’s a quick summary….

Guitar Revolution is a piece of music made up of four parts, for an infinite number of guitars. The parts range in difficulty from very simple to complex. Players are invited to learn the piece for free and join a mass guitar orchestra of strangers and perform the piece. The Project was launched at The London Acoustic Show on the 10th of September. You can find out more here.

So, that’s it. That’s the revolution, in a nutshell….

There’s a fair bit to share with you at this point since its come a long way from conception to realisation and as we prepare to take it to communities across the UK; I can’t help but think, ‘blimey so much work has already gone in!’…so here’s the story so far, the conception of the idea, and how we got here.

The conception of the idea:
Strange as it might seem (even stranger as I don’t really like the game); I think Music is a bit like football. It brings people together. When those people get together, especially in their ‘teams’ as spectators or players; they lose themselves in a way that is borderline scary, although actually quite wonderful. In fact, when the ambience is right, people from all different teams can get together and share their love of football, and equally lose themselves in the moment. Of course football also suffers from all kinds of bad stuff…elitism, racism and then there’s those people who somehow know exactly how it should have been played.

Now, call me crazy but the similarities with musical culture and kicking an inflatable ball around a pitch are shockingly close…and before you get all upset by the comparison please remember a very large number of the population see how some play the game as an art, and Im not going to disagree…

Anyway….the point of this analogy? well, I wanted to explain to you why I would spend so much time trying to bring groups of people together to play the guitar. That football feeling of being together as a ‘team’, the players, the supporters, everyone, its amazingly powerful. It’s something I wanted to capture in a piece of music….

Now there is one very distinct difference from Arsenal FC and ‘Guitar Revolution’…and no, its not just the money…its that the players in Guitar Revolution are anyone and everyone who can kick a ball (erm…I mean play a guitar…).

Now for Arsenal inviting anyone who could kick a ball to perform at wembley would be a disaster. But, for music I believe its a bonus. Music works in layers, ranging from simplistic to complex. I believe EVERYONE who has the gift of hearing, also has the gift of being musical. I see no reason why an absolute beginner can’t play an incredibly simplistic line with the same emotional beauty that someone from the royal college can.

Im not delusional, I appreciate a mix of amateur players is likely to sound less polished than a mix of well rehearsed professionals….but music isn’t just about being polished is it? Its about; people, atmosphere, vibe, feeling, passion, magic. A terrifying amount of our musical culture is hideously elitist and exclusive. ’Guitar Revolution’ and yes…’The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra’ itself is very much focused on derailing those ideas.



The Story So far:
The actual piece ‘Guitar Revolution’ took a ruddy long time to compose…It’s gone through many different changes over probably a period of about a year. Why? well, trying to compose something that is simplistic enough for anyone to play, but contain parts that are complex enough to keep virtuoso’s interested…and not loosing sight of composing an emotive piece of music is actually quite a challenge. A challenge greatly helped by the lovely members of ‘the creative guitar orchestra’. These chaps and chapets were my guinea pigs. And boy did they work hard! (thanks folks 🙂 )

So once the piece was completed, I set about doing something with it. I knew from the beginning I wanted to have it played by strangers….(see opening analogy! 😉 ) The option of taking it out on tour seemed slightly ridiculous at this stage since I hadn’t really seen that done previously and I had that distinctly unnerving feeling it may well be career suicide. After bouncing the idea with a few sponsors, promoters etc I got the feeling it was too big to achieve. In all honesty the idea was subconsciously shelved for a good few months, until….. Steve Harvey (former editor of Acoustic Mag) a fine gentleman dropped me a line to offer me a slot at The London Acoustic Show. I mentioned ‘Guitar Revolution’ and being the brilliant fella he is, he said ‘okay…lets do it!’ Which to me was a bit of a shock if Im honest…but ‘hey’ I thought…this is the chance to see if it fly’s or flops, and at this point it was the only chance I’d had.

So…once the idea settled in I set about trying to make it happen. Filming the video with the help of my groove orchestra brother Christian ‘Arthr’ Ballistrari in a way that demonstrated the different parts – which really wasn’t that easy. I then set about desperately trying to spread the word. Asking people to join at any opportunity.

If you’ve ever had a party as an adult, you would have come close to the feeling of insane insecurity that I experienced, except this party was going to be a little more public and be in a magazine and stuff! Will anyone actually come?? When you are an artist especially in the naughties, everything you do is very public even if no one knows your name, and seemingly the only thing you are allowed to express is ‘success’…and the thought of calling a project ‘Guitar Revolution’ that is performed by me and a handful of my mates wasn’t going to look to good.

Anyway…to cut a long story short, a whole host of people turned up, me, my mates, and well…loads of strangers! We couldn’t fit everyone into the rehearsal room…which was inconvenient, but very cool indeed.

We performed it and it was seriously inspiring…. I gotta admit I was so stressed out that I didn’t fully appreciate it until afterwards. The logistics of performing with your band and then bringing nearly seventy guitarists onto a stage for one song is pretty testing, especially if you’ve spent the last few months in near psychological melt down at the thought of no one coming to your party…. But, nether the less…it was very very cool.

Where are we at now:

Well…Its been an exciting few months. After asking people (via social media) if they wanted to get involved and help take it out on the road, its gone from a one off to a tour that will be enriching and exciting for everyone involved.

Sadly, making this stuff happen takes time and money so my second priority after getting the support from the public has been to try and secure some funding. With the help of a wonderful person an arts funding application is in, and Im also pleased to say Martin Guitars will be powering the event, which is insanely good. Not simply because of their support but because this guitar company embody a lot of what this project is about. Although you might associate Martin Guitars as being a ‘big’ company, they are actually a family business in both the literal sense and in the theoretical sense. Trust me I’ve spent time with a lot the guys and girls who work for martin and it really is like a family. They are committed to working sustainably, they have people at the heart. I haven’t announced this yet, but I though you as a reader who has plowed through over a thousand of my words should be rewarded with something of an exclusive!

So there you have it, its happening! – the first leg of the tour is booked and dates will be released along with a very very cool design very soon. And whilst we are on the subject of design, here’s four rough sketches created by designer and guitarist Sean De Burca, let me know which direction you think should be developed?….

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So, in the next blog or journal post I’ll be getting stuck into the mechanics of how this thing is gonna work, just as soon as I know.…

What if you were Jimi Hendrix’s Guitar Teacher?

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Im a guitarist and a composer. I’ve also spent a large amount of my time teaching; teaching as a music classroom teacher and as a peri (one to one) guitar teacher; and I wanted to raise a few questions for my fellow educators and musicians…

Many of our most loved guitarists, Jimi included, don’t or didn’t play ‘correctly’, sorry, but its true!… Jimi’s thumb over the neck, or Wes Montgomery’s picking hand thumb obsession would make a lot of us guitar teachers loose sleep.

Many guitar teachers, and syllabuses teach what is claimed to be a ‘right’ way of playing our instrument or even on how to approach music itself (and no I don’t just mean in the classical world!). The right wrist position, the right approach to theory, the right way to hold your guitar etc etc..

And, why not? teachers are here to teach after all?…right!? – we don’t want students ‘doing it wrong’ do we!?!

My question is; If Jimi had experienced (no pun intended!) this type of lesson and had gone along with the rules, would we have had a Hendrix? and more to the point …Imagine for a moment (presuming you’re a guitar teacher) if you had of taught mr Hendrix, would you have corrected his hand position? Or forced him to turn his guitar around? Would you have told Wes Montgomery to stop just using his thumb? Or told Van Halen to stop tapping around and to play properly!!!? Have you been responsible for stopping jimi the 2nd from rocking our world?!?!

So, as you might be guessing I reckon many guitar teachers out there are in danger of stopping the next Jimi, or in fact any instrument teacher, from quashing creativity…

I think what made Jimi ‘Jimi’ or what made Wes ‘Wes’ was their creativity, creativity in bucket loads. The fascinating thing about creativity is we can all do it, but the conclusions we reach are always entirely individual. So I reckon this creativity thing might be pretty important right?…perhaps we should teach that?

It confuses me how even though its often the creativity and originality that makes us love an artist in such a fanatical way, its that very thing which is often left behind in music education. Much of our music Ed culture is instead seemingly obsessed with justifying a right and a wrong or a good and a bad. In fact its so weird in some establishments that pieces of paper (certificates and all that!) are used as badges of ‘Im this good and I did it right’ and without it some of you ‘aren’t that good and did it wrong’. The certification process has needed a ‘ruler’ a ‘right way’ to aspire too, and a ‘wrong way’ to avoid. Ultimately, you mustn’t do it wrong, because if you do…. well…anything could happen, terrible terrible things!! Check out the Arts award for a great example of measuring without quashing originality.

My journey to being creative took a good while. For many years I was striving to sound like others, (I guess thats where we all start ,right?). I was obsessed by theory and scale shapes, I was terrified I would ‘do it wrong!’. I needed to validate the endless hours I spent playing with tangible knowledge, the understanding of music theory. I became a creative void, churning hendrix lick after hendrix lick (slightly ironic!), glued to scale shapes and stylistic patterns. Eventually frustrated by my lack of originality I began de-tuning my guitar, deliberately disorientating myself, forcing my musical ear to work hard, and detaching myself from a lot of the ‘rote learned’ knowledge I had spent years obsessing over.

Of course it was ruddy scary, I was sure as hell ‘doing it wrong’ a lot, so wrong in fact that I had never done it before, I had no idea what I was doing….and ladies and gentlemen from the unknown comes new and exciting things.

The result was this kinda thing…tunes like.Edinburgh. I now use a different tuning in almost every piece of music in order to be absolutely creative, and its not quite so scary now, but its still new every time. Percussive techniques etc came as a logical progression, ultimately I was in creative flow and doing things for a musical and emotive purpose, rather than trying to do it ‘right’.

Since then I’ve concerned myself with applying this new freedom to my teaching. Below are four ideas that I think can help deliver creativity as a guitar (or any instrument ) teacher. Four points that when kept in the back of the mind consistently have helped me to avoid killing off another Hendrix…of course, they are not ‘rights’, or ‘wrongs’…just another creative idea…

1.You do not always know better.

There is no right way or wrong way. I know a way and I think its darn good, but your student may develop a better way, even if that student is six years old, give them room to develop their own approach. The problem solving that their seemingly illogical technique demands will help creative thinking and result in original ideas…hell, you might even learn something!

2.Give them bricks and mortar, let them make a house their own way.

yeah, its lazy aint it!? but seriously, we don’t want to create clones… if for example teaching a twelve bar blues, why not teach the foundations, then offer a whole host of different glimmers of inspiration, perhaps a full version from an artist, then perhaps a lesson on melodic strumming, then maybe look at some scales. Let the student put the building blocks together. Okay, its the long way around but the results are far more valuable.

3.Teach vs facilitate

No need to always push that knowledge. Relax mate, your student will progress, but let them breathe, be there to support encourage and guide. Not to dictate to.

4. Encourage students to work together/group work.

Seems simple, but I really find that getting students of any age to work together is hugely successful in nurturing creativity and originality. Work on turning a poem in a piece of music? or creating a soundscape? anything, but let them work together and just facilitate. (This is a project Ive been working on regarding group lessons, check it out..and if you want it in your school get in touch.)

okay so I wana hear your approaches too… email me contact@chriswoodsgroove.co.uk

A final word: I love some of the amazing leaps forward in music education that we have seen in recent years, and I am constantly inspired by the work of my peers; this blog is about the parts of our music ed culture that are not so inspiring. I also do not oppose learning theory, or learning the works of other artists, or in fact playing with a logical or economical wrist position… I just think we need teach it in creative way.

Stop Hitting Your Guitar – Seriously!?!

Like many people across the globe I remember the day I opened an email to find Andy Mckee’s ‘Drifting’ video. For those of you who haven’t seen it (do you live under a rock?) this tune contains percussive guitar techniques (aka hitting your guitar, or Percussive Acoustic Guitar).

Now, my reaction at the time was something along the lines of ‘why is he doing that?’ ‘Whats the point?’ ‘You need to get yourself a drummer mate?’….(sorry Andy!)

If you hadn’t guessed; my opinion on Andy Mckee’s ‘Drifting’ changed – in fact my outlook on music changed. I am in fact a fan of Mr Mckee – the man is a musical marvel, one of the worlds awesome musicians and an inspiration to me and players across the globe – he is most certainly very very musical! All hail Andy!

Since then I have carved a career which, in reality, owes thanks to percussive techniques. Many of my compositions contain percussive techniques (like this); I wrote a book and DVD on the subject, as well as two apps, a regular article for Acoustic Magazine a video series for GuitarInstructor.com all influenced by percussive playing and more. Im sure a large proportion of my bookings, especially at the start of my career, have come from using this approach. And in the end, I have now found myself on the receiving end of the same idiotic attitude, that I once had…

I’ve seen social media posts that express ‘stop hitting your guitar’ from guitarists whom I seriously respect. When I release a video a handful of irritating people will comment ‘stop hitting your guitar mate’. And of course I have also experienced this in the real world. The most prominent example occurred at the Ullapool guitar festival (which if you haven’t been, you must go its amazing!) A couple of years back I was lucky enough to perform, and soon after I delivered a workshop, alongside some great players. We asked the attendee’s what they wanted to learn…and they answered ‘not that percussive stuff!’. hmmm….cheers guys.

So, its pretty clear some people have an aversion to percussive playing, including me at one point. Some just don’t enjoy the sound…and fair enough. But why are so many people genuinely angry at it! why ‘o’ why!!!?

Im pretty confident we can split these lovely folks into two categories…

  1. ‘Argggh! I’m bored of seeing this stuff!’ – those people who have seen far too many percussive guitar videos.
  2. ‘Stop doing that, its not musical, there’s no point!’ – those people who just think its for showing off and really is a bit silly.

Category one: There is plenty of percussive guitar players. I can’t say I’m bored of it, because I don’t listen to it all the time. Like all of us I can choose what I listen too. So…I guess thats the first group covered.

Category two: Now this an interesting one. This is essentially the reaction I had when I first saw Andy Mckee hit his guitar. My opinion changed as I grew up, and I realised three key things – three important points some of the anti-percussion camp should take on board… here we go…

Firstly and most crucially; you don’t need to judge music, or even create an opinion on it. No one really cares what you think, and rightly so, because who on earth are you to judge? Perhaps the music has been written as an emotional soundscape and to the composer a certain technique helped them to communicate this, or perhaps they used those techniques to show off, or simply further their playing. Perhaps they wrote it just to irritate you! It really doesn’t matter, if you don’t like it…move on, its just another experience you silly billy!

Secondly I realised techniques are tools, and tools are good. Just like a pull-off or a slide, ‘hitting your guitar’ is a technique to help you communicate something, just like your vocabulary – its as valid as any other tool. If you are a player and you are refusing to learn this technique or tool you are being very silly indeed. You wouldn’t refuse to learn a new word would you, or refuse a screw driver for your tool box? ‘ooo no I don’t like screw drivers, everyone’s using them nowadays!’

Thirdly, I learnt to (try) not let my own insecurities interfere with my musical opinions. That’s right, insecurities! – They make us into angry judgmental people if we don’t keep them in check.

I think that anyone criticising someone for using a technique has to take a good look at themselves before they voice this. Is this jealousy perhaps? Can you not do it? Are you jealous of the amount of time someone has spent on creating something? I was obviously jealous of ‘Drifting’ …I think I still might be! Clearly there has to be some kind of emotional reason for actively disliking something that is of no detriment to you, the environment, humans or puppies. I was once that person.

Of course there is one final category; those people who are criticising players for ‘bad’ percussive techniques. These guys are the worst!…the real musical lemons….

Lets face it, some people are rubbish at guitar….some people are also rubbish at cooking, or in fact some people are rubbish at being a human. The later of course effects society in a negative way and is certainly worth criticising. But ‘Dave’ (a fictional guitar player!) who posts a video of himself playing a new composition where he battles through three minutes of painfully out of time percussive hits is not bad for society. ‘Dave’ is in fact good for society, he is a wondrous thing! And whats really cool is ‘Dave’ will get better… ’Dave’ has tried really hard to create something, something exciting, something creative and then he has shared his efforts with the wider world. I wish the category of criticiser in question would ask themselves, ‘What did I do today?’

cheers

Chris

www.chriswoodsgroove.co.uk

contact@chriswoodsgroove.co.uk