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Syncopation and the Art of Sounding Clever

This is a guest post from Peter Hodgson, who is the editor of the iheartguitar blog.  It is one of my top 5 blogs I would recommend to anyone who is interested in guitar.  If you are interested in contributing a guest post, please contact me here.

GuitarOne of the most effective ways of injecting excitement into a riff is syncopation. In a nutshell, syncopation is when you play a note on a beat where you probably wouldn’t expect a note. Now, when I’m playing guitar I tend to approach rhythm differently at different times. When I’m soloing I’m led by whatever melody pops into my head. As a result, the rhythm can be a bit unconventional. But when I’m playing metal rhythm, I’m all about the 16th note pulse. I keep the 16th notes in mind even if I’m not actually playing them – for example, even when I’m playing a chugging 8th note riff I’m listening to the notes in between as well, and every now and then I might fill those spaces with little accents. Try it some time: picture the musical bar as a version of that board game Mastermind, except instead of four rows to put the pegs in, there are 16. Each peg represents a note or chord, and there’s ya rhythm.

As an example of syncopation I present to you a couple of riffs from my song ‘Just One Thing,’ which you can hear a rough mix of on my Myspace at www.myspace.com/peterhodgson The first riff has a note on every one of those 16 spaces, but some of them are accented chord stabs and others are palm-muted. The result is a steady pulse punctuated by jarring but kinda cool chords in places where you don’t really expect them, and this track has burned the brain of many a drummer for the first few listens. Initially it seems like an odd time signature, and it’s fun to watch a drummer take out the slide ruler and metronome to try to figure out where the ‘one’ is, only to realise the underlying beat is so simple that even a guitarist like me could come up with it.

Another way to approach this riff, if you’re not into the whole ‘thinking in 16th notes’ thing is to run the riff through a few times then only think about the fretted notes, letting the open-string notes in between take care of themselves by going on semi-autopilot with your alternate picking. That’s a method I find especially handy playing some Muse riffs where I’d rather enjoy the riff than think about the maths behind it.

The autopilot alternate picking method ain’t gonna help you in Riff 2 though. This one is purely chord-stab, with no chuggy muted notes in between. You need to pay close attention to the rhythm to get this one to work. Once again, imagine 16 slots. Okay? Okay. Now, in the first bar of this section, the chords fall on sub-beats 1, 2, 5, 10 and 15/16 (the last two actually being a three-note chug). Let’s try this with capitals and lower-case letters: BA-BA-ba-ba-BA-ba-ba-ba-ba-BA-ba-ba-ba-ba-BADDABA.

Obviously this kinda stuff is best used as a springboard for your own riffs and ideas. You could probably even use a 16-sided dice (you have one in your junk drawer, right?) to help you come up with random note locations. Above all, just have fun with it and don’t hurt yourself.

Download the TAB (PDF)


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7 Questions with Will Bernard

Describe your first experience playing music.

When I was very young around 3 or 4 my parents used to sing folk songs with their friends at parties. I would sing along an pluck on a ukelele or bang on the table or whatever. My mother was studying classical piano so I heard her practice. I remember liking Bartok’s Hungarian and Rumanian folk songs . Later I took up piano and violin before I took up guitar and played in the elementary school orchestra in Berkeley California. we backed up the jazz band and played songs like Oh Happy Day and Mercy Mercy Mercy. I didn’t start guitar until I was 10.

What has been your most significant musical experience?

Tough question. For me there is no other thrill better than writing some music and then hearing it played by other people. In High School I had a class with Art Lande where we had to come up with a song or small composition for a group every week. It was the deadline that did it and I ended up writing my first songs.
What is the best advice on pursuing a career in music you were ever given?

Well I was never given much career advice it seems, but I do remember one of my early guitar teachers saying that you should make yourself indispensable in a group situation.

willbernard08-3What is your favorite sound?

If this was the actors studio I would say something like my first born laughter or something. I am going to be boring and just use music. I like the human voice best.

Name some of your biggest non-musical influences.

I like art, film, literature, food, nature. I think art and film are huge influences…I will really want to play or compose after I see some good art. Music will never be as abstract as painting though. Making scores or writing down music on paper seems like the closest sometimes. I like making a visual image that somehow corresponds to music. I used to like to draw for hours while listening to music and it made me think of how shapes, colors and form can be similar in both fields.

What was the most memorable concert you ever attended?

Well when I was young and not as jaded I got something out of nearly every concert I went to. I can’t say which were the most memorable but Top 5 today are probably Led Zeppelin, Prince (before he was famous) Charles Mingus, Elvis Costello and the Carla Bley big band.Tomorrow I will have another top 5 list.

Put your iPod on shuffle and list the first 5 songs that appear

Dr Lonnie Smith “Turning point”
Aphex Twin “To cure a weakling child”
Franco   “Na Basani Yo Te”
Will Bernard  “Nature walk”
Soul Children “Hearsay”

Go see Will live.  He tours constantly.  www.willbernard.com

Martin Sexton at Infinity Hall

Martin Recently, my wife and I made yet another trip to go see Martin Sexton.  For me this was somewhere around the 15th time I have seen Martin live.  The first time was at what seemed like an at gallery called CSPS in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His music is powerful and speaks to me on such a deep level, that I make it a point to see him as much as possible.

I have seen him in Minneapolis, Chicago, NYE in Northampton and even in a tiny bar in Ames, Iowa (that one was for my wife’s 21st birthday).

This show at Infinity Hall was one of the best Martin Sexton shows I have ever seen. You never know what form a Martin Sexton show will take.  Most of the time he performs solo.  Just him and the guitar.  For quite a while he was touring as a duo with drummer Joe Bonadio and recently he has even had a full band.  This show was Martin solo (my preferred format) and at the start of the show he announced that later on he was going to play some brand new material.

As most of Martin’s shows do, it started with him strolling onto the stage, plugging in, saying hello and then deciding what song to play at that moment.  This night, he choose one of my favorites, “Freedom of The Road” from the Black Sheep album. Much like a jazz musician, Martin completely transforms every song when he performs it.  He stretches the time, inserts other tunes inside and generally goes where he wants to within the tune.  I would imagine this is a big reason why he performs solo so often.

Martin always does a great job of mixing up the set list.  However this was the first show that I have seen where he didn’t do any covers.  A highlight of the first set was “Love Keep Us Together”.  Not only haven’t I heard that song in a while, my wife and I used it in our wedding.  Overall the first set focused on classic Martin tunes and was fairly low key with the only rocker being “Beast In Me”.

During the intermission, a music stand with lyrics was set up along with a stool and a mic.  When Martin returned, he was joined my Dan McKenzie on guitar.  He mentioned that him and Dan had been writing some new songs for an album that will be released in the spring. For the four new songs, Dan played guitar while Martin sang.  It was quite unusual to not only see Martin play with another guitarist, but to see him sing and not play guitar himself.

The new material was very strong.  The audience responded nicely to it and I am SO looking forward to the new album.  After Dan left the stage, Martin returned to the vintage material that his fans know so well. “Golden Road” and “Angeline” were the standouts of the set for me.

This show was a better than average Martin Sexton show and it looks like since he seemed to like the venue and the show was sold out, I would imagine he would be back.  If you get the chance to see Martin live, please take a chance, go see him and bring a friend.

For tour dates, check out www.martinsexton.com

Martin Sexton – October 9th, 2009 – Infinity Hall, Norfolk, CT

Set One: Freedom of the Road, Diggin’ Me, Diggin’ You, Love Keep Us Together, The Beast In Me, Candy, Marry Me, Happy, Failure, There Go I

Set Two: Grateful to Be Alive*, Stick Around*, Friends Again*, Boom*, Gypsy Woman, Diner, Can’t Stop Thinking About You, Golden Road, Glory Bound, Angeline

Encore: Black Sheep>Turn On Your Lovelight

*With Dan McKenzie, Brand new songs (not certain about titles)

7 Questions with Greg Koch


Describe your first experience playing music.

I can remember my Mom teaching me some piano snippets as a young Kochling. She has secret powers. She taught me a 12 bar boogie pattern early on and those three chords have hounded me every since.

What has been your most significant musical experience?

I used to do a duo with a legendary keyboard player named Jr. Brantley when I was a teenager and he taught me many things. One of the things he told me was that I would never have to worry about money. That certainly didn’t stop me from worrying but it gave me the confidence to trudge ahead and his musical lessons were invaluable.

What is the best advice on pursuing a career in music you were ever given?

Somewhere along the line I heard some semblance of the following….

If you can’t take occasionally hearing that your best ain’t shit, that everything you think is cool, ain’t, that you ain’t ever going to amount to a hump of scat and/or if you can’t stand seeing cheese elevated time and time again to the heights of success while truly gifted folks live in squaller, GET OUT NOW! BUT, if you can take it, try hard, stick to your guns and treat people the way you want to be treated, you’ll always do fine.

What is your favorite sound?

Strats, Teles and the growl of an expresso machine…

Name some of your biggest non-musical influences

Fight or flight reflex….Negative reinforcement…kruesening…unkruesening

What is the most memorable concert you ever attended?

The first time I saw Eric Clapton with Albert Lee…Summerfest, Milwaukee, 1983…

Put your iPod on shuffle and name the first 5 songs that come up.

“Girl” The Beatles
“Sunset Over Broadway” Roy Buchanan
“Spiral Dance” Keith Jarrett
“Your Time is Gonna Come” Led Zeppelin
“Water of Love” Dire Straits

Find out more about Greg at www.gregkoch.com

7 Questions with Alex Skolnick

Alex is one of my favorite guitarists.  We met right after I moved to the east coast at a Labor Day BBQ of a mutual friend.  It was a bit surreal to see a guy you had listened to for quite a while ask you to pass the bread.  Anyways, Alex is not only an incredible metal guitarist, over the last decade he has established himself as a jazz guitarist.  This past summer we were lucky enough to have him as a guest artist in McLean, VA.

Please check out his website at www.alexskolnick.com


Describe your first experience playing music

I believe it was at a friends house or a friend of my parents who had a piano. I tapped out the riff to ‘Smoke On The Water”

What has been your most significant musical experience?

I think that may have been it! Also, hearing Miles Davis with of his electric bands while flipping channels on TV. He combined screaming electric guitarists (probably it was Scofield or Stern, not sure) with world music percussion, funk bass grooves and jazz harmony. It had the power of metal.  Right then it was clear that how deep music could go and how it was all universal.

What is the best advice on pursuing a career in music you were ever given?

“It takes ten songs to write one good one.” Several people have said something like this to me and I’ve found it to be true. Then there is the quote by the late Hunter S. Thomson:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

What is your favorite sound?

The ocean

Name some of your biggest non-musical influences.

Books, especially those by Erica Jong, Tom Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe, Philip Roth, and Henry Rollins, to name a few. Also, food and chefs, especially Anthony Bourdaine and Thomas Keller.

What was the most memorable concert you ever attended?

Prince, ‘Musicology’ tour 2005. He made the Continental Arena in NJ feel like a small dance club and was played guitar as well as any great rock guitarist I’ve ever seen.

Put your iPod on shuffle and list the first 5 songs that appear

“Better Off Without A Wife” (Tom Waits)

” Now He Beats The Drum — Now He Stops” (Chick Corea)

“Mercy Street” (Peter Gabriel)

“The Art Of Fugue, BWV1080: Contrapunctus I” (JS Bach)

“Thunderbird” (ZZ Top)

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9 Must Read Music Blogs

Before I started here there were a few blogs that really inspired me to start my own.  Considering my job, many people were asking me to somehow document all the great musicians I come in contact with on a regular basis.  Here are 9 blogs that helped me figure out how to blog, why to blog and what makes a blog succesful.

In no particular order:


GuitarNoize.com is one of the first guitar centric blogs I started to read on a regular basis.  It has a great look and feel and is a great place to find the latest guitar news that sometimes is overlooked by the mainstream.


Ariel Hyatt is a publicity wizard.  She was the first one to tell me how to make Twitter work for me and for that I am grateful.  If you are an independent musician, please do yourself a favor and check her out.

GuitarVibeGuitarVibe.com is a really great site for concert reviews, gear reviews and some really nice interviews.  Since Zach is in the the tech industry, I really like the reviews on some of the guitar technology that is out there.

IHeartGuitarWhat is it with Australia and amazing guitar blogs? iHeartGuitar is a guitar news blog that features both some incredible interviews (Dave Mustaine, Ace Frehley, etc.) but lessons, album reviews and more.  I am really looking forward to finally meeting Peter at NAMM next January.

Rock House

The Rock House Method Blog is not only a place to keep up on the latest Rock House news but a great resource for tons of lessons, articles and more from other websites and blogs.


John is one of our instructors at NGW and is always willing to help students (and fellow bloggers).  He has some great coverage from the summer and is one of the best examples of how to leverage the internet to create a great teaching studio.


Easily one of the most read music business blogs around, Hypebot is a great way to learn more about what is changing daily about the music business.  Bruce Houghton and his staff really do a great job of explaing complicated concepts in an easy to understand way.


Bob Lefsetz is a longtime commentator on the music industry.  Starting out as an actual letter and then progressing to an emai list, his blog is read by a large amount of the music industry.  He posts A LOT, so I would recommend checking it out from time to time and catch up.


Derek Sivers is the guy who started CDBaby and in turn empowered a generation of DIY musicians.  Much like his hero, Seth Godin, Derek’s blog is full of short useful posts that really make you think.  If I had to choose one of this list, this would be it.  HIGHLY recommended.

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If I Was Pat Metheny

One of the most viewed posts I have written was the post about Pat Metheny‘s Orchestrion Project.  Nothing was especially groundbreaking or news-worthy about it, I just thought it was really interesting.  Since that time I have been thinking about what little we know about it and how (or if) that will effect the success of this project.  I have even spoke directly with Pat about this and I am still confused.

I decided to make this really easy for Pat and come up with a few things that he (or his people) can do to help make sure this project attracts not only his core fan base, but new fans as well.

Make it Accessible

I know how difficult it is with the economy and all to make a living on tour.  However, I think it is important to realize that you can’t make new fans when tickets are $60 or more.  Period. In order to get a buzz going about a certain project, you need to identify the influencers and evangelists and make the project not only appeal to them but make it accessible. The youth market is doing all the talking today and you need to convert them.  Student discounts on tickets is a great idea that has been around a long time, but I think you should take it a step further.

Anyone in college or high school comes to the show for free.

Yes, free.  If you really want to reach new audiences and influence the next generation, you need to take away any reason why they SHOULDN”T go to the show.  Let’s face it, this is probably some pretty experimental stuff and you want to make sure everyone in attendance WANTS to be there.  There are a million things to do that don’t cost anything, but if they choose to come to your concert, you know they want to be there.  If they end up really liking it, they are more likely to buy some merch as well.

Spread it Out

For me, the biggest thing I take away from a truly great concert experience is the ability to re-connect with the music when I get back home.  Ever wonder why all the “jambands” are so popular?  They allow their fans to take a piece of their music home.  It not only gives your core fans an amazing memento, it makes it easier for them to turn their friends onto the music as well.

Allow everyone to videotape and record EVERYTHING

From the looks of it, I think that each night on this tour will be completely different both in sound and material. Why not document it all?  Your fans are willing to do this FOR FREE.  Let them.

Tell A Story

I was really surprised about how little Pat really described this music when I spoke with him about it. It not only made me more curious, but it raised a little doubt in my mind.  Is there something he is hiding?  How different will this be from his other material? In today’s “real time” culture, it is important to be up front an honest with your fans.

Create a conversation with your fans about why and how you are doing this project

This could take the form of a blog, a short video(s) or even a column.  Both DownBeat and JazzTimes should be tripping over themselves to help you with this.  The point is to start a dialogue with your fans that is both meaningful and authentic.  Start now.

Be Transparent

This does tie into the point before, but I think you can take a different angle.  What if you made your soundchecks open to the public?  Do you think your ticket sales will suffer?  I don’t. Many fans would love to watch how your rig is setup and then see you make sure everything is working.  Not only would it give them a unique experience, it would make them feel like they are in a “Secret Society.”

Make your fans feel special.  Because they are.

I am no expert on this by far, however I am a huge fan of your music.  These are just a few things I think might help in someway.  In my opinion, too many artists aren’t taking advantage of the new way of thinking when it comes to consuming live music and the feeling of community. Also, any of these ideas I guess would work for any artist.  I didn’t mean to single you out, but this project is on my mind.

Don’t worry Pat, I will come see your new project no matter what.  I feel like I am a true fan.

Now off to listen to my favorite record.

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