Monday, August 4, 2008

My Experience Attending National Guitar Workshop

In a previous post I mentioned I was prepping to attend National Guitar Workshop and I would report back. That time is now, err… it was some weeks ago actually. To keep things simple I’ll say up front that it was worth the money for the experience as well as the improvement to my playing I got as a result.



Experience
The workshop was at the Blair School of Music on Nashville’s Vanderbilt Campus. After the usual logistical glitches that can occur things got rolling with a short orientation. All the instructors played on stage and showed their stuff following the styles for the sessions they would be teaching.

Since the venue is a school of music we had a well appointed classroom with a piano as well as a fully stocked sound system cabinet. The instructor, Jeff McErlain, kicked things off by having us all trade solos against a blues progression to determine where we were in our playing and we went at it from there.

One of my initial concerns on registering was I would be the oldest person there. They assured me I wasn’t and we had around a 40 year age range in my class. There are lots of opportunities to interact with players from the other classes and at dinner that evening I was able visit with lots of other middle age guys with variations of the “how many guitars does one person need” t-shirt; one active musician I traded notes with had 37 guitars. Where was that money when we really needed it, back in our teens!

Improvement to My Playing
My main attraction to Roots Rock was to get exposure to styles beyond the blues that I’ve focused on to date. The focus was on:

· Use of double stops
· Make use of your thumb on the fretting hand
· Use your fingers as well as the pick on your picking hand
· Improve your comping abilities through use of inverted triads
· Learn some theory to get out of the box on improvisation

I record myself so I can do some critial listening and gauge progress. A couple days into the course I recorded solos against some simple progressions and compared those to some I recorded before the class and noted an immediate improvement. My improvisation didn’t get flashier in two days but the note selection and phrasing were more interesting. My summation is that my playing improved because I learned about straight forward things that if you work on can really improve your overall sound.

The NGW workshops include guest artists and in the case of Roots Rock it was David Grissom. He does session work in Nashville and keeps a complete setup stored in town when he comes in from Austin to work. He setup shop in one of the auditoriums with this rig, took a range of questions from the students, and played some music along with Jeff McErlain, our instructor.

Some of the takeaways from this session is it ain’t easy making money playing music. If you look at some of the photos you will see there were 10 plus guitars plus two or three acoustics stored in a separate case. In a studio situation you have to be prepared to deliver what the producer is looking for and quickly. That means a wide range of gear even is something only gets used once or twice a year. Another takeaway was David Grissom’s answer to a question of how do you go about getting to where he is to which he answered “be ready to give up everything else”

As for this hobbyist, I don’t plan on giving up my day job so I’m out of the running. However, the NGW experience is open for all age ranges as well as all experience levels. Give it a try, you might like it too!

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