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 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?

jimi

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.

‘The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra’

Chris has launched two singles from ‘The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra’ which are available to download from iTunes etc and to stream from Spotify and more… The album is nearly there and over the coming months there will be opportunities to see chris perform as ‘The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra’. The first chance will be on the 3rd of May at The London Guitar Night, where Chris will be joined by Tabla player Harkiret Singh Bhara. Get your tickets here
 

Debut Performance of ‘The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra’ at The London Guitar Night

On Sunday evening Chris debuted some of his most recent ideas for ‘The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra’ – performing at the London Guitar Night with cellist Mazza Claverie – Chris hosted the evening, also performing was Oka Vanga, Tom Gamble and Garry Smith. In between touring this summer Chris will be hard at work in the studio continuing to compose and record for ‘The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra’ aiming for an autumn release subscribe to his youtube channel for video updates or visit Chris’ sound cloud to hear the occasional teaser snippet as Chris puts together the album. The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra will include Cello, full Drum kit and much more…._MG_0232
picture courtesy of Margot Robert-Aumercier