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Review: 50 Jazz Guitar Licks You Must Know


Truefire.com contacted me recently and asked if I would be interested in reviewing one of their products. They sent me 50 Jazz Licks You Must Know by guitarist Frank Vignola. I have seen some of Truefire’s earlier material and thought they were cool, so I agreed to check the new stuff out.

The whole idea behind the “50 Licks” series (which also comes in blues, rock, acoustic and country) is to give you some solid vocabulary that you are able to inject into your own playing very quickly.  Frank Vignola is an excellent player and is able to dissect and explain each lick and give context to the phrases. Each lick is grouped by tonality (Major 7th or Minor 7th licks etc..), application (such as Jazz-Blues), and even some more complete ii-V7 licks that would be great not only for developing your vocabulary, but also becoming more comfortable with the fretboard by moving the licks to different keys.


Vignola demonstrates each lick at a moderate tempo. Along with the video, both PDF and Powertab files are provided.  Once you have the fingerings down, a jam track is provided for you to practice along with.  It is good to hear that Truefire didn’t use canned MIDI backing tracks for these.

Overall I think the 50 licks series is a solid product.  This is a great product to jump start your playing or to broaden your knowledge of a certain genre.  However, there are a few thing I think TrueFire could improve.  The first one is PLEASE ditch the PowerTab.  Every lick is tabbed out in PDF and demonstrated.  I didn’t find any need for the PT files.

The other issue I had was with how the licks were grouped. It would be more helpful if they were grouped by key in addition to context.  Both of these issues are really minor and don’t really take anything away from the product.

As I was working with this DVD, I thought about some ways a student could get more out of this. Here are some ideas:

  • Write out a composed solo or etude with the ideas presented in the DVD. This will give you practice not only with the compositional process, but it will allow you to internalize the licks easier. It would be great if TrueFire included a couple of these with each course.
  • Take one phrase and write as many variations as you can. Change the rhythm, key and context and pretty soon you have an entirely new phrase that is your own.

If you have any ideas on how to make instructional products more helpful, I would love to hear them in the comments below. Take a minute and check out all the other instructional DVD’s and guitar lessons at TrueFire.com

Here is a video of Frank Vignola and Bucky Pizzarelli playing Limehouse Blues:

Kirby Kelly Wins Guitar Center’s King Of The Blues

Kirby Kelly has been involved with NGW for quite a while.  Recently, he entered the Guitar Center King of The Blues Competition and made it all the way to the finals.  A good friend, Pauline France (@paulinepr) was there covering the event for iHeartGuitar and texted me the news that Kirby had walked away with it all.

I couldn’t think of a more deserving musician than Kirby. As you can tell by the video above, he is a pretty bad ass guitar player.  Surely, this will bring Kirby some more well deserved attention.

He deserves it.

7 Questions with Amanda Monaco

Amanda Monaco is a jazz guitarist based out of NYC.  I first met her one summer at NGW where she is a faculty member (and before that an intern and alum).  She recently completed the NYC Marathon and is playing and teaching all over the place.

Make sure to check out her blog and website at www.amandamonaco.com


Describe your first experience playing music.

The first band I played in was called “The Dimensions” and we played pop tunes from the 50s and 60s – everything from Booker T. and the MGs to Wilson Pickett. The lead singer had a bad perm that made her look like a poodle, and no stage presence whatsoever (I think she was only doing the gig because her boyfriend, the drummer, insisted), but she could sing ok, and the other guys in the band were really into it so it was still a lot of fun. We played every weekend – everything from private parties (including a christening for a little Mafia baby in New Haven) to cruise nights in the parking lot of a restaurant in mid-state Connecticut.

What has been your most significant musical experience?

There’s been so many, but the first one that comes to mind is this: there was one Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur where I was playing services with a quartet (organ, guitar, cello, percussion) and the organist, who had been playing the services for 15+ years, had taken the music to the next level in terms of spiritual meaning through this intense musical expression. There was plenty of room for improvisation, stretching the limits of the liturgy, tons of freedom within what is normally looked upon as more of a somber occasion; at one point the congregation was praying/dancing in the aisles (literally!) which one might expect at a gospel church, but not the norm at a shul…It was such a moving experience that it completely changed the way I play music in every situation since; it took the petty anxieties away and gave music a meaning that could be compared to prayer.

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

Play as much as you can with as many people as you can.

What is your favorite sound?

Music that feels so good it makes you smile so much it hurts and makes you feel that these sounds can truly change the world.

Name some of your biggest non musical influences.

Training for the NYC Marathon has taught me a lot about endurance, pushing oneself past what was thought possible, setting goals, humility, and patience.

What is the most memorable concert you have ever attended?

John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2007. “You Know You Know” played in a duo setting; Shakti redux; so much joy and inspiration flowing through these incredible musicians. The crowd roared for 30 minutes just to get an encore, which they did.

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

“Just Squeeze Me” – Ella Fitzgerald with the Duke Ellington Orchestra
“I Walk The Line” – Johnny Cash
“String Quartet #6” – Bela Bartok
“My Girl” – The Temptations
“Fried Pies” – Wes Montgomery

7 Questions with Jason Vieaux

JV White shirt seated 4

Describe your first experience playing music.

My first experiences playing music were my goofing around with my first guitar at 5, guitar/theory lessons when I was six, recorder ensemble during my elementary education. But my first musical EXPERIENCE was putting on records by The Beatles, Wilson Pickett, Aretha, Eddie Floyd, Credence, Ahmad Jamal, Ken Nordine,Kai Winding, Chico Hamilton, Bay City Rollers, many others, between 3-5 yrs of age. That was my favorite activity, and probably still is.

What has been your most significant musical experience?

Probably the answer to question #1. Or when I heard the White Album

at age 6. Or hearing David Russell in concert when I was 14.

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

My teacher, John Holmquist, when I was a student at CIM: “Music Business is two words”, and “Never play your music faster than your ability to articulate it clearly to your listener”. That 2nd quote is a very important lesson for the aspiring professional guitarist that perhaps more guitarists could take to heart.

What is your favorite sound?

Too hard to answer, but at least this week it’s Bernard Purdie playing drums on “Caves of Altamira”. Name some of your biggest non-musical influences. My father: “even if this doesn’t become your job, you can always come home from work and play guitar for your own enjoyment” (he told me this when I was 11) and “even if there’s 1 person in the audience, you should play for that person, because they came to hear music” (when I was about 12).

What is the most memorable concert you ever attended?

Aforementioned D Russell concert, Julian Bream in ’88, Cleveland Orchestra Mahler 2nd 1999, Mitsuko Uchida in Philly playing a Mozart Piano Quintet 2000?, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny trio setting and with Gary Burton. Too many, I know.

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

No iPOD, but since we’re talking “pop” songs…this week only,

don’t get it twisted…

– electric relaxation, a tribe called quest

– refuge of the roads, joni mitchell

– black cow, steely dan

– death of auto-tune, jay-z

– bleed, meshuggah

Keep up with Jason at www.jasonvieaux.com

Basic Arpeggios for Classical Guitar

This is a guest post from Christopher Davis, who is the editor of the Classical Guitar Blog.  The CG Blog is an amazing resource for both classical and wanna-be classical guitarists.  If you are interested in contributing a guest post, please contact me here.

Fingerstyle or classical guitar seems daunting at first.  Like any other style of guitar, however, the basics apply to everything.  The purpose of this article is to get you playing some beginning patterns with the right hand fingers.

The Basics

Right hand fingers are labeled with letters.


p=thumb, i=index, m=middle, a=ring, and c=little finger.

While playing fingerstyle it’s important to keep a generally straight right wrist.  Try this:  make a fist with your right hand.  Place the thumb along side the fist.  Then relax the hand and let the fingers curl gently, the wrist should drop a bit too.  That’s what your hand should look like on the guitar!  Just “freeze” the wrist/hand in place and play it over the strings.

Now place p on the fifth string, i on the third, m on the second, and a on  the first.  This is home position.  Just like with the left hand, the right hand use is limited mostly to the fingertips.  Avoid putting  the fingers too far back and having the strings touch in the pad of the fingers.  Here’s a few photos of my right hand in home position to give you an idea.



Now Make Some Noise

So far we’ve covered the basics:  finger labeling, the wrist/hand, and home position.  Now make some noise.  Keep your thumb in place on the fifth string.  Now snap all the fingers off the strings, and bring them back into the hand.  That is, play the strings, but curl the right hand fingers into the hand — it’s the same motion as making a first.

Do this exercise a few more times to get a feel for it.  This motion of the fingers back into the hand is the norm for all right hand playing.  When you’re just starting with fingerstyle playing, it’s better to exaggerate the motions at first, and work on refining and shrinking them down later.

Some Basic Right Hand Patterns

First, a word on planting or preparation.  It’s very hard for a right hand finger to miss a string if it’s already on it.  That’s the idea behind preparing or planting the right hand fingers.  As the following patterns move up the strings (going from the lowest string to the highest), we’re going to do a full plant.  At the start of each arpeggio all the fingers are on the strings.  Some of the pattern move back down the strings, in these cases work on bring the finger back to the string right before it plays.

p i m

Plant/prepare the thumb, index and middle fingers on strings 3, 2 and 1 respectively.  Now peel them off one at a time.  Or…

  1. Plant all the fingers
  2. Play p
  3. Play i
  4. Play m
  5. Return all the fingers to the strings and start over


p i m i

Plant/prepare the thumb, index, and middle fingers on strings 3, 2, and 1 respectively.  This pattern is a little bit different, as it requires the index to return alone before it starts over.

  1. Plant all the finger
  2. Play p
  3. Play i
  4. Play m, while m plays return i to the second string
  5. Play i
  6. Return all the fingers and do it again


A great practice method for this arpeggio is to just do steps one through four, then stopping.  This just practices the return of i to the string, one of the things students have the most trouble with.

Eventually the beat of planting is combined with the thumbs motion.  This would turn the p i m arpeggio into…

  1. Plant all the fingers
  2. Play p
  3. Play i
  4. Play m
  5. p plays, i and m return to the strings and the arpeggio starts over



Playing fingerstyle for the first time always feels awkward.  But just checking out some videos of great classical or fingerstyle guitarists leaves no doubt that fingerstyle players can be just as capable and virtuosic as the usual guitar icons.  Some right hand chops will only add to your skill as a guitarist.  Good luck! and thanks for reading!

7 Questions with Laurence Juber

Describe your first experience playing music.

I got my first guitar for my 11th birthday. It was a cheap flattop with a bolt-on neck and a floating fingerboard.

I had to stuff cardboard under the fingerboard extension to make the action playable. There was a book called “Play In A Day” by Bert Weedon, a well-known British guitarist.

It had the melody of “When The Saints Go Marching In” written in notation – there was no tablature in those days. One rainy Winter afternoon I figured out how to read it.

What has been your most significant musical experience?

Career-wise, I’ll have to say playing with McCartney, but that really was part of a much larger musical experience. I try to play in the ‘musical moment’, so each performance can be significant.

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

I realized at around age 13 that I wanted to make a living being a guitarist, so that became an all-consuming passion. It was a time and an environment where there were constant opportunities and developing the skills to be a pro came naturally to me. I didn’t truly learn about the business of music until much later. The best piece of musical advice came from an old school jazz guitarist who told me to play ‘big notes’.


What is your favorite sound?

The voice of the guitar itself – there’s a sweet spot where the instrument sings and everything resonates. It moves depending on the style, the tune, the kind of guitar, but it’s there on acoustic and electric. Think of Clapton’s tone on ‘Hideaway’ or Django on anything.

Name some of your biggest non-musical influences.

My wife Hope, who helps me focus my creative imagination. Various teachers of Alexander Technique and meditation. Comedians and actors – performers who communicate with humor and drama.

What is the most memorable concert you ever attended?

Jimi Hendrix at the Albert Hall in 1968. He played there twice in one week – the second was filmed, but the first was magical. He played ‘Red House’ on a white SG custom. Second was the Cream farewell concert. Third place goes to lutenist Paul O’Dette who played at a church in West London in the early 70’s. I had never heard notes spinning out of an instrument with such liquidity.

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

The Beatles – All My Loving

Bix Beiderbecke -Davenport Blues

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

Dave Matthews – Shake Me Like A Monkey

Billy Holiday – Stormy Weather

Visit Laurence at www.laurencejuber.com

Interview With National Guitar Workshop Founder Dave Smolover

I have been involved with NGW since 2004 when I worked as a Traveling Residential Advisor in order to fulfill an internship requirement for my Music Business Degree.

This past spring, we made some promo videos featuring our alumni and faculty.  Personally, my favorite videos were the ones with Dave Smolover.  Dave began the National Guitar Workshop in 1984 and since then has branched out to DayJams, National Guitar Workshop Publications and WorkshopLive.

Below are the three parts of the interview we filmed.  Even with working with him for as long as I have, there was some new information.  Please take a minute and check them out.

Part Two:

Part Three:

7 Questions with Will Lee


Describe your first experience playing music.

My first experience really playing was going to my drum kit that my dad had bought me (an old Leedy kit, made by Ludwig  with WFL snare) immediately following the Beatles’ first performance on American TV on Feb 9, 1964. I had not been inspired to play anything in particular until that moment, and suddenly I was digging in like my life depended on it!

What has been your most significant musical experience?

That live TV broadcast was the seminal one for me, but the one that made me decide to go on living when I was at my most down-moment was hearing Ivan Lins sing “Daquilo De Eu Sei” for the first time (the original version on the Philips label). It was transcendental.

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

To focus on playing one instrument- bass!!

What is your favorite sound?

I think it would be the sound of natural water movement; waterfalls, ocean waves, rivers & streams, etc.

Name some of your biggest non-musical influences.

I like to give credit to anybody with  positive message. That would include people like Jesus, Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay, Krishna, Tony Robbins, Ghandi, Obama.

What is the most memorable concert you ever attended?

Brian Wilson’s band of the last few years has been mighty impressive, from a perspective of well-played parts & great singing. Also there have been some Tower Of Power performances that I have seen over the years that were so funky, it smelled like something the cat dragged in!!

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

1. “Song of The King” from Rogers & Hammerstein’s “The King & I”

2. “Respect” by Otis Redding

3. “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles

4. “Pamela” by Toto

5. “Driftin'” by Will Lee (Wow, that’s embarrassing, except that Jeff Beck is on the track!!)

Visit Will at www.willlee.com