How I Introduce A Sight Reading And Ear Training Experience Into Private Guitar Lessons

If You Want To Play It, Then You Have To Say It!
When I first began teaching guitar for a living the hot thing that all my kids wanted to play was grunge rock, specifically Nirvana and Pearl Jam, in that order. The strumming style on a lot of those Nirvana songs was highly syncopated and contained a fair amount of percussive rhythmic strokes, with the guitar strings muted, exactly the type of rhythm guitar playing that leaves the beginning student feeling confused and left me as a beginning guitar teacher scrambling for ways to keep these kids engaged.

First I thought I will teach everyone to read rhythmic figures, strumming patterns, and transcribe the tunes, or simplified versions of them, for them to use as their rhythm reading practice. This approach can work but it is time-consuming and long sight reading lessons are usually not very engaging to kids who are trying to learn to play rock ‘n roll.
Being that I have always felt that perhaps the most useful and practical course in any music school curriculum is sight singing and ear training. I see such a great value in these traditional musical educational procedures and practices that I have tried to bottle that experience for my weekly guitar students with a two pronged attack. First, by asking them to sing the rhythm first, and only then should you try to replicate the song on your guitar. To my amazement, this simple ear training procedure greatly increased the chances of succeeding in virtually all of my students. It works so well I often remind them of this method of practicing by saying if you want to play it you have to say.
I also like to tell them that the first thing I remember about attending the mythical and glorious Berklee College of music in Boston was that I was immediately shuttled into ear training one and a sight reading lab. Although, I found it challenging to the point of being nearly impossible I managed to survive and then thrive under the patient tutelage of some great teachers and my mentor William G Leavitt. All these years later, I have realized that the two torturous courses I dreaded going to have served me incredibly well over my long career as a professional musician.
The second prong of my attack plan is the reason I have lots of very nice transcriptions, done in music publishing software, for easy strumming exercises, guitar standards, old classics and current hits.

teen spirit

Smells Like Teen Spirit Simplified Rhythm Part

I keep them on the hard drive of my laptop and print them as needed. This is my plan for bottling a sight reading and ear training component into private lessons, by being able to constantly prosecute the case for sounding out and playing rhythmic figures and basic strumming patterns through having things professionally written in standard rhythmic notation, and encouraging a little bit of sight singing, or call and response singing, in every lesson.

If I Ruled the World, Everyone Who Wanted to Learn The Guitar Would Have To Begin with Classical Lessons!

The Concept of the Concept.

When music educators discuss “the concept” they are loosely referring to the students general overall understanding of everything. In terms of your average guitar student, someone between the ages of 14 and 30, they have already developed a very good concept by being music fans, joining bands and general playing activities associated with the craft. This means they comprehend song structure, improvising, dynamics, and the general musical interplay associated with properly executed and interesting music -having absorbed these ideas through a sort of osmosis a good many don’t need this ‘concept’ to be taught or explained to them.

The Quandary of Teaching Elementary School Guitar Students.

In my experience very few students on the elementary school level exhibit any clarity in regards to “the concept”. Although they enjoy the popular music of the day, trying to teach them modern guitar techniques, songs, and important ideas -the things that make those lessons meaningful and educational such as song form, chord function, improvising, music theory and chord scale relationships are normally far outside of their purview. Taking the approach of professional level musical training in modern idioms with elementary school students has rarely worked out very well for me with of course a few notable exceptions as several of my former elementary school students have become very successful in the music business; however they were born to be musicians.

I of course am aware that many elementary school students are burning up YouTube with Van Halen covers, Django Reinhardt impressions and blues mastery but these kids represent those far from the norm, far from average.  Pointing to children like those internet sensations as a viable approach to music education equals pointing to lottery winners as a model for personal financial success –it can’t happen to everyone.
classic guitarist

Every Student Deserves To Be Exposed To Classical Guitar

Classical Courses Of Study Make Sense To The Young Mind

When I taught general music on the elementary school level I was impressed with the progress students could make when they participated in the band and orchestra program, they were engaged, they understood what they were doing and they were absorbing sound musical principles as a result. Granted most of this training was simply music reading and sight singing but if you’re a fellow educator reading this article you don’t need me to tell you the importance of these two courses of study.

cadences and patterns 2

Classical Music Is A Good Way To Impart Elements Of The Musical Concept To Younger Students

I have taken this approach to heart so much so that I now refuse to take elementary school students unless they will study classical guitar with me first. The results are of this practice are that I keep students longer, give them a better education, they are more engaged in what they are doing and just like all those kids from the elementary school music programs they develop musical minds and a solid concept. When you think about it, classical music is the perfect vehicle for imparting the concept of “the concept” to youngsters because they are learning to be self-contained music makers, capable of playing complete and coherent pieces of music as well as absorbing all the essential bits of music theory, constructs and ideas that classical guitar composers use to do their work.

Call Me Crazy

I believe there is a magic to classical music, it can impart  a sense of beauty and artistic sensibility simply by following any one of the traditional methods currently available, playing the pieces with sincerity and dynamics, and developing a nice little repertoire.

Solo Guitar Playing by Frederick Noad

Solo Guitar Playing by Frederick Noad


p.s I prefer Frederic Noad but anyone you like will do just fine.


Using Traditional Melodies To Supercharge Your Guitar Lessons

The Power Of Traditional Melodies

In my journey as a guitarist and guitar student I have had the pleasure of working with many great teachers, one thing they all have in common is incorporating traditional melodies into their teaching program. Guitarist often referred to these as fiddle tunes, flat picking, bluegrass instrumentals or simply folk melodies. Many of these songs have been part of the basic musical repertoire for centuries and I often explain to my students music does not last that long, and stay relevant because it’s bad, quite the contrary they are still being played because of simplicity, beauty and solid musical concepts, flatpicking songs are literally a school to themselves.
These traditional melodies serve many purposes not the least of which is developing technique and familiarity with scales they’re also a rich source of ideas  concerning melodic construction and careful study can serve as the basis for improvisations in any style. Finally, traditional melodies also make great performance and recital pieces.

The Devils Dream

One of the best tunes to incorporate into your teaching program is the song played in the preceding video, the wonderful Devils Dream, considered a jig or a reel it traces its origins to the British Isles and is mentioned in musical literature as early as 1805. My lesson plan for Devils Dream appears below as you can see I have done an analysis of the form and also a melodic analysis of the phrases.

devils1 devils2

The first and most salient points that I address and my lesson is this, music is highly repetitious in this whole amazing performance of Devils Dream can be attributed to four short two bar melodic phrases (As an aside most improvised phrases and also composed melodies rely very heavily on two bar ideas).


Devils Dream -Analysis Of Form Pointing To Repetitious Nature Of Music

I have also added fingering indications which may or may not be followed as long as the student understands why selecting particular fingers for passage is important in the first two bars there are two options one of which gives me the opportunity to explain the important concept of using an open string to switch positions.

The Devils Dream serves as a great confidence builder and study and the power of repetition and creating musical melodies and solos with small amounts of melodic material. Students of all ages enjoy and are proud to perform it.  Interesting versions of many great traditional melodies appear in the highly recommended Fiddlers Fakebook by David Brody.  All the instructors I know have had great success incorporating traditional melodies in their teaching programs.


Recommended Addition To Guitar Library, Fiddlers Fakebook By David Brody


The Myth of the Self-Taught Player

Carl Jung’s Archetypes And One New One

A strict definition of archetypes defines them as a basis, model, mold or template from which copies are made. One of my favorite thinkers, Carl Jung, employed this term for one of his most important and interesting theories. In a Jungian sense, archetypes are differing but repeating patterns of thought and behavior found time and time again across countries, peoples and continents. Like a persona or personality. There can be no complete listing of archetypes but a few of the ones (earth mother, magician and wise old man) that, Carl Jung wrote about are illustrated below.

Three Of Carl Jung's Archetypes

Three Of Carl Jung’s Archetypes

As a picture is worth 1000 words you really don’t need me or anyone else to explain them, they carry their own meaning along and you already know the type of person that each one of the photos depicts. Using your imagination you could probably start talking about each one of the people in the photos, this is the concept of the archetype.

The Self-Taught Magical Boy
In my journey I learned an archetype: the ultra-hip, smooth talking guitar slinger complete with an encyclopedic knowledge of bands, musicians, guitars, guitar pieces, parts and gadgets -an archetype that I called the “self-taught magical boy”.

f I adopted this archetype when I was a teenager and immediately took great pride in the fact that I didn’t know anything about music and I couldn’t read music -wearing my ignorance like a badge of honor. I played by ear and by feeling and I could “figure it out by ear” in any and all instances. I did my best to project a kind of highly intuitive, highly gifted type of person that had the magical lightning fingers and was playing things off the top of my head that were truly remarkable and amazing. Alas, I would occasionally wisely and wistfully comment with a faraway look in my eyes something like this: “but I really wish I did know how to read music” or  “I should have gone to music school”. This was part of my assumed personality, the archetype of the self-taught magical boy, being smart enough to know the value of music education but as the amazing magical boy I really couldn’t or wouldn’t subject myself to the rigors of training because it would destroy all the wonderful astounding things that I discovered on my own and was given at birth.
Of course it was all a big lie and some sort of pathetic ego defense mechanism that I was telling to myself and anyone else who would listen to me play my crappy Jimi Hendrix licks over and over and pretend to be a musician because I could figure out top 40 songs or get the occasional gig at the local watering hole.

Finding The Right Teacher
Luckily for me I found the teacher who pointed out to me how misguided my musical journey truly was, and how everything was a big lie and I really didn’t know anything at all and furthermore there was nothing preventing me from getting the proper training only laziness and my overblown ego, delusional thinking and magic seeking.
This is not a pattern of behavior I invented, it is one I adopted, it is one that was that was taught to me by all the rest of the guys who play their Eric Clapton & Jimi Hendrix covers, figure out songs by year and then we walked around like they were some kind of musical gift the rest of humanity when in fact we were just a bunch of posers and wannabes -self-taught magical boys, boys that never had a real music job.
Luckily for me I had a no-nonsense, tough taskmaster of a friend and teacher who was named Thomas Pizzi. He spelled it all out for me in no uncertain terms by calling me on my bull ship and putting me in situations where I would fall flat on my face again and again.

As a result, I began find and hire better and better teachers and eventually one of them, the legendary Tony Mottola helped me to enroll in Berklee College of music where I was under the mentorship of William G Leavitt himself for six years, so yes I shook off my sad and self-defeating archetype and slowly became a musician.
The truth of the matter is no one is self-taught, guitar playing and improvisation is an enormous multi generational community of which we are the keepers of the flame. ( I’m constantly confronted with the archetype of the self-taught amazing magical boy in my teaching practice and although I won’t pull my hair out when someone starts to repeats the tired cliches associated with the archetype I resist the temptation to let out a healthy “WAKE UP DUDE”!!!


Being The Right Teacher
When I begin to work with and quiz the self-taught players, amazingly they will know roughly the same thing, the minor pentatonic scale, the blues scale, a dozen or so iconic solos, Wipeout, Johnny Be Good, the one from Stairway to Heaven and complicated ones like Crazy Train and Bohemian Rhapsody and are usually quite adept at playing and naming chords and can demonstrate a basic knowledge of blues and rock theory -all indications of basic music training.
Yes, it seems that all of the people I meet that are so eager to adapt the archetype of the self-taught magical boy know just about the same thing.

My question is how could they all have taught exactly the same things themselves? The point is they didn’t, you must have been engaged in some form of musical education, either formal or informal, if you can tell me what a C# minor chord is or G major chord is or how to play a C major scale you have studied music but at some point you gave up because it was too hard, was too much work, was too expensive or just wasn’t fun to sit there and expend the genuine effort it takes to be a musician.
When I encounter the archetype of the self-taught magical boy in my teaching business I don’t try to tear them down and make them see the folly of their ways in their first lesson like my friend Thomas did to me -if I did that I wouldn’t have any students!

Defeating The Archetype

The idea is to teach that person with all his faults and foibles, being a gentle and positive influence on them. When I encounter the archetype, I employ process of reverse engineering, and what is commonly called scaffolding. This is where I think of something the person knows and I explain the music theory to them in no uncertain terms, in a way that they can understand constantly referring to basic blues and rock theory and expanding on it a little bit as the lessons progress. Building on what they know, for older students, they have all played Bob Dylans “Like A Rolling Stone”, my lesson plan appears below.

Building Skills By Relearning Common Knowledge Song

Building Skills By Relearning Common Knowledge Song

I never give in to using slapdash hand-drawn material are crappy tabs and I find on the Internet. In my case I’ve written hundreds of lesson plans, published seven books and have a huge online curriculum available ( but if I find a gap in my material I will make a professional high quality document in tab and traditional notation with salient points illustrated and explained along the way. I always tell my students that I’m constantly prosecuting in the case of musical literacy, while I am also happy to teach you all the tricks I know and basically how to play but my job is to turn you into a real musician.

Many of my former students like Dustin Kensrue of THRICE or Eric and Sameer of YOUNG THE GIANT have found success by embraceing formal musical training, each in their own way.

I have a student who is the embodiment of the archetype of the self-taught magical boy; I have been honored to have been his teacher for many years. Recently, I showed up to his blues gig very early during sound check, he didn’t see me but I heard him going on and on about the importance of addressing the IV chord in a blues number and proper phrasing, and when to use this or that mode or chord substitution for greater effect.  It was like he was a changed person, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it, but there he was giving a music theory lesson to all the guys in the band. It was the perfect outcome and a very enjoyable evening of music.

The Story Of My Mentor:The World’s Greatest Guitar Teacher

Did You Know Bill Leavitt?

Today, like any other day, I saw my students, attended to business, and found a little time to work on some tunes.  Unlike any other day one of the budding guitarists, produced a copy of A Modern Method For Guitar and asked me “Did you know William Leavitt?” “Bill, he liked to be called Bill” I quickly added then continued, “Yes, I knew him”. I then started the lesson, but when my student asked,  “What was he like?” I began to tell my story.

While I had very few music education experiences as a child, the profession of music did choose me at age 19, the moment my friend Kemp let me play his sunburst Stratocaster and showed me a D chord, which caused everything else to leav my head and was replaced by all things guitar.  At that point, my only connection to this world was Guitar Player magazine and the Berklee College catalog I acquired when buying a used guitar.  That was the first time I saw the name of Bill Leavitt. I loved what he had written in Guitar Player magazine, always something like “guitar ensembles sound just gorgeous”.

I lived in Atlantic City New Jersey; it was as good a place as any because I met many famous players in my capacity of pool boy at Resorts International.  I received the occasional impromptu lesson from an old family friend, the famous Tony Mottola, other luminaries and serious working guitarists. Most of them all had one thing in common: some sort of connection to or knowledge of the Berklee method and Bill Leavitt.  For years, I tried to become a part of the big scene in Atlantic City but it was loaded with pros and I was in over my head, flunking auditions as fast as I could find them.

I was an amateur and a music career seemed impossible, despite my level best efforts I was going nowhere fast.  At 26 I thought there was a good chance that I was never going to amount to anything; I literally couldn’t think of anything except guitar playing but I wasn’t very good at it.  One day I declared I was going to attend the Berklee College of Music.  In my small circle of working class people, it was just a cute little pipe dream. I found a local teacher and in exchange for $15.00 he quickly spelled it out for me: I knew nothing about music but how to copy records. I had no training, no experience, very little talent and no chance: Berklee was no place for me.  I thought about it and decided to go up to the college for nothing more than a look see, buy some books and try to make some friends.  It’s easy for a twenty something to blend in at a college I thought and I just wanted to see it.   I’d had Berklee on my mind for years; I felt I owed it to myself to at least have a look and maybe check out a few of the guys there, all in order to find out if the local teacher was right about me.

When the day of the big road trip came, the little commuter plane from Atlantic City to Boston ran late.  I didn’t make it to the school until the dusk of an arctic November evening.  It was ice glazed cold, dark, depressing, and deserted; it was shaping up into another one of my infamous crapshoots. When I finally made it to the mythic 1140 Boylston Street,  I ran up to the 5th floor, knowing that was the guitar department. I thought I was alone but at the exact moment I crested that final stair the door facing me opened and a portly older gentleman emerged with a trash can in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, probably the janitor I assumed.  “Hey Chief” I said, “Do you know anything about the guitar department, and is it any good?”  The Chief did know about it and thought it was quite good.  I told him I had been trying to become a guitarist and was desperate to learn.  Since I thought he was the janitor I found it easy to let my guard down and relate to him as another working class person.  I was cold, sad and I needed a friend so I began to share my situation a little bit with him; he was a nice old gent.

Bill Leavitt

William G Leavitt In His Prime. I Added A Picture Of His Legendary, World Class Instructional Method

He invited me into the room from which he had emerged and began respectfully talking and listening to me and although he had to go somewhere he took 30 minutes and gave me some material to study and the requirements for the first proficiency at the school.  I was taking up too much of his time and had figured out he was no janitor, so I thanked him profusely and asked his name, “Bill Leavitt” he said.  Stunned, I managed to gush “Thank you Mr. Leavitt, I have been reading about you in Guitar Player and have tried to work with your books but found them too hard and….”.  He stopped me and said to come back the following day, for a proper lesson and an evaluation.  I knew he meant it and I was thrilled beyond words because I inexplicably felt the lesson was somehow just as important to him as it was to me.  Unbeknownst to me, I just gotten my one and only big break in the music business; I met Bill Leavitt, the world’s greatest guitar teacher, and for some reason we took a deep and immediate liking to each other.

Thinking about it, I couldn’t believe the chairman of the guitar department at the Berklee School of Music was inviting some kid off the street to his office in the middle of his workday at semesters end.  That lesson lasted an hour and a half and when I left that room, again unbeknownst to me, I just made the best friend I ever had in this world and spent the first of countless hours with the most important person to have ever entered my life. When I got back to New Jersey, I wrote and told him I doubted I would be able to get into the school but Bill promptly wrote back and told me to not at least apply would be a big mistake.  With a letter of acceptance, I moved to Boston with barely enough money for one semester.

Bill was a busy important man, and also one of the world’s foremost authorities on guitars, guitarists and guitar playing.  Everyone was in awe of him.  I was hoping to talk to him again but I was not going to make a nuisance of myself as I had done to all the other guitarists I knew. Little did I know that I, as the new worst guitarist in Boston, had captured Bills’ interest?  In my first few days, I ran into him all the time and he repeatedly and sincerely invited me back to his office but I dare not go, I was embarrassed about my relative ability level and also about my old flat top acoustic guitar with a clip on pickup.  Besides, he was always doing something important or walking around with famous musicians.

Painfully unprepared for my experiences, I was quickly overwhelmed and completely lost in all classes.  Once, I was the object of some harmless jibing in ear training class because I was asked to sing a solo and couldn’t hit more than one or two notes -we all had a little chuckle over it.  Although I laughed it off, I didn’t see anything funny about it.  I continued to redouble my efforts and apply myself even harder, but to no effect: the course material was becoming increasingly incomprehensible and I saw my dream of a Berklee education slipping beyond my reach.

I decided to go see Bill Leavitt, I told him I was in real trouble and it was really looking like I wasn’t going to be able make it as a Berklee student.  That’s when I found out who Bill Leavitt really was.  He told me to come back the next day at 8 AM, I was to bring all my books and everything else I had bought or been given.  At that time, he and I went through all of it, harmony, sight-reading, ear training, whatever -the two of us hour after hour.  I told him I couldn’t believe how much I had learned and thanked him for such a special day.  He said as department chair he had sorely missed teaching and had enjoyed the session, and told me to return the following morning.  That was a ritual we were to repeat again and again, every week, every semester, every year.  At first it was driving people crazy but soon I became like the wallpaper, just a natural fixture in Bill’s office. We were tight, right from jump.

bill leavitt

William G Leavitt And Student (not me) I Am Current Owner Of Guitar In Picture.

The magic of Bill Leavitt however was not what he did for me, it was simply who he was and the genuine love and deep respect he had shared with virtually every person who was in his sphere.  Incredible people skills were his trademark.  He was bigger than life, smoked like a chimney, drank buckets of coffee, told jokes that more were silly than funny and would sometimes fill up the entire 5th floor with a bellowing spring reverb of a laugh. When it was cold out, he wore a Frank Sinatra hat.  He was a credit to his generation, now called The Greatest Generation, having served in the Navy close to the end of World War II.   Any good Michigan Wolverine is steadfast, hardworking, genuine, respectful, fun loving, duty bound and down to earth –Bill was no exception. Like many of his contemporaries he understood how to be a true friend, how to celebrate and honor people, had a sense of culture and community and knew how to carry himself with the quiet class and dignity of a true gentleman -the very qualities which are all too scarce in our modern world.  When a lady walked into his office, he would stand up. Quite simply, he was a prince among men and we all knew it.  Everyone (and I do mean everyone) would have done anything for the man. That was probably because we thought he would have done anything for anyone he knew.

Bill was a family man; his wife Ginger was a beautiful, trim, and no nonsense redheaded pianist whom he worshipped. He originally thought she was out of his league but to his surprise and shock she had been hiding a deep infatuation for him.  Once Bill was offered a big break out in Hollywood, but he stayed in Boston to be with his countless friends and start a family with Ginger.  They had two daughters, April and Melody and several grandchildren (with an overabundance of stories concerning each one). Bill loved them and thought about them more that anyone could imagine.  To honor his girls, he published a guitar duet called An April Melody.

William G Leavitt Books

Part Of Bills Extensive Catalog Of Original Instructional Material

Career wise he was most proud of his seven books and many distinguished former students, quite literally, a who’s who of guitar playing.  Before he came to teach at Berklee he had regularly played on the Arthur Godfrey TV show, accumulated 100’s of album credits, written many an amazing song (one of which, My Baby’s Coming Home, Les Paul and Mary Ford recorded) and was known to stars, singers and celebrities as a top arranger whose charts could make even the weakest of bands swing like mad.   Once, he was the talk of his suburban neighborhood because a black limo containing a famous chanteuse of the day appeared needing some emergency writing done to replace lost pages in her book.  In his salad days as a guitarist, he was THE call in Boston, playing one dream gig after another.  His command of the guitar was so jaw dropping in those days that his friends and colleagues nicknamed him ‘the creepy crawler’ because he could, whenever necessary, blow a kaleidoscope’s worth of mind numbing substitutions and extemporaneous chord melodies.  When he did this, his hand looked like a spider inhumanly crawling over the neck.  It was the kind of playing that the most of the guitar world still only dreams about.  During the countless hours I spent playing with him, I never heard him miss a note or make even the slightest mistake.  Really.

bill chart

My Baby’s Comin’ Home written By William G Leavitt For Les Paul And Mary Ford -re released on Les Paul ‎– The Legend And The Legacy Capitol Records ‎– C2-97654

When I met him, I was a young 26, with lots of issues and rough edges. Interpersonally, I was certainly not hot stuff.  Bill always knew what I needed to hear and gently offered kind criticisms and countless lessons in life.  When I did or said something off center, he wanted to talk it over with me.  During my time in Boston, I was a bellboy at the Park Plaza a situation that I often found difficult and humiliating because I was routinely carrying amplifiers and road cases for established musicians such as Chick Corea and Tito Puente who regularly stayed at the hotel.  Bill taught me to be proud of the fact that I was working hard to pay for my Berklee education. He said that I had needed a starting point and helping out the occasional famous musician was not such a bad one.  I regularly sought his advice on how to deal with the people I worked and studied with. When I realized that my mentor, hero and role model believed in me, cared about me and deeply and respected me, some of my rough edges magically became smooth ones.  Today, I copy and pattern myself after Bill Leavitt.  I think about him every day and vividly remember nearly every word he ever said to me.

The last time I saw Bill he asked me what I wanted to do, even though I had accumulated dozens of extra credits, I told him I just wanted to be a guitar player.  Bill replied, “Karl, I don’t see anything in your way.”  At that exact moment, I felt liberated in a new found confidence.   For once in this life, because of those words, I began to see possibilities.  I entered Berklee with very little talent, self-worth or knowledge but I left there with a degree in jazz performance and a new belief in myself, knowing I had finally accomplished something.  Yes, I knew Bill Leavitt -he was my teacher.


Teaching Guitar Improvisation Through The Use Of Hot Stuff

Blue Bossa Lessons

Inevitably, a guitar instructor will encounter standard tunes associated with studying improvisation such as Watermelon Man, Stormy Monday and the Latin jazz classic blue bossa. I’m sure by now you know the drill: “It’s a 16 bar song, the first eight bars are in C minor, then there is a four bar section in D flat major, then song concludes with for more bars in the key of C minor.  As we analyze the song we see that after a I minor to IV minor cadence, the rest of the song is comprised of either major or minor II –V – I progressions in the respective keys.  The diagram below not only analyzes the progression but also gives you the scale choices. Of course you can forgo scales at any time and chord tones, tensions and chromatic approach notes.”

The normal "company line" concerning Blue Bossa

Jazz Lesson Plan: The normal “company line” concerning Blue Bossa

Great lesson plan right? Wrong. It’s a terrible lesson plan but unfortunately it’s the one that most of us had received in one form or another and unfortunately the one we continue to repeat in one form or another. This approach, in addition to being similar to pushing someone who cannot swim into the deep water of the pool in the hopes that in order to save his life will figure out some type of swimming when he hits the water is a terrible oversimplification.

Other oversimplifications that are of no use.

Other oversimplifications that are of no use.

The Beauty of the Contrived Solo.

In the jazz era, musicians would call an improvised solo a ride and were often instruct the musician on the bench than to take a ride -play a solo. This term is very telling, when you are playing a quality solo, hitting all the right notes, nailing your hottest licks and firing on all cylinders you may experience a feeling of confidently and purposefully moving forward or something slightly transcendental.  That is the feeling of the “ride”, and that is what you were looking for that is what you are teaching.


Before student can create these types of solo in the musical moments that accompany them he must experience a ride first hand, he must be shown the way.  That’s where the contrived are planned out solo comes into play. The first step in this type of teaching is of course insisting that your students confidently and strongly play melodies to standard tunes and famous pop songs. Serious music students must study books of solos, such as the Charlie Parker Omni Book (or other artist collections of transcribed solos that have meaning to them) and compilations of licks and shorter solos.

Guitar Improv Studies: Charlie Parker Omni Book & David Baker Improvisation

Guitar Improv Studies: Charlie Parker Omni Book & David Baker Improvisation

The student gains first-hand experience and competency in making real and meaningful music out of passages of single notes, they’re experiencing the transcendental feeling of the ride, the feeling of strong and serious playing. That is the beauty of the contrived solo.



Whenever I Get in a Fix I Reach Right into My Bag of Tricks

Below is a music improvisation lesson plan for the beautiful minor key song Blue Bossa.  I’ve recorded and transcribed two choruses of single line soloing over the basic chord changes to the song which can be heard below:

In the first chorus the melodic analysis (appearing in red) shows a fairly straightforward approach of using chord tones and chromatic approach notes. In the first two bars on emphasizing the natural 9 note because I feel this note is kind of an unsung hero when it comes to a minor chord sound -most students automatically default flat third and completely ignore this note.  For the modulation to D flat major I am taking the Wes Montgomery approach and using some basic jazz guitar voicings and substitutions as a means of creating a solo. The last four bars of the solo are playing triads resident in the key of C minor, a somewhat pedestrian homage to “the sheets of sound” approach.


Blue Bossa; Contrived Solo

The first four bars of the second chorus of the song enables me to discuss upper structure triads. In this case the key change is addressed by using melodic motion by thirds on a plain old D flat major scale and the common knowledge D flat major seven arpeggio found on the top four strings.

Blue Bossa Soloing Lesson

Blue Bossa Soloing Lesson

The Takeaway

I first discovered the power of the contrived solo by collecting books about jazz guitar improvisation and copying the licks and solos I found them.  I found that by analyzing them and playing them over and over I was gaining strength and power as a musician, experiencing for myself the joy of taking one sweet ride after.


My Favorite Picture

Welcome to my blog which is all about learning, playing and teaching the guitar.  I hope to offer ideas and insights that I have learned in my very interesting and all consuming guitar life which began as a little boy in the 1960’s, jamming with my friends Bobby and Bobby, saving up for records and trying to figure out chord changes to pop songs -it was the best!

The first thing I discovered was the joy of learning, of knowing.  The most important thing I learned however in this journey is the value of sharing what you know, of teaching others your best tricks and favorite ideas.  Not only is this practice rewarding but  it fulfills a promise that a pyramid or ponzi scheme never could: your investment will grow ten fold right before your very eyes.  That’s right, teaching music is the ultimate ‘win-win’ proposition because, when done properly, it benefits, in more ways than I can write about here, the teacher as much as the student.


That’s why this is my favorite photo of myself, with a baby who was all wrapped in a G major chord, looking at me with a sense of wonder, like something magical just happened (?) and reminding me that I have made it my mission to share this wonderful art. Reminding me of my responsibility.