Time flies when you’re having fun. This is my summary of the Guitar Tips Pro Live workshop with Adam Levy held a couple of weeks ago at Jazz Central Studios, sponsored and hosted by my favorite guitar store El Diablo Amps.
The theme of the seminar was “finding your own voice”. Adam began by playing a couple of pieces, one instrumental and one with vocals. He then gave a brief overview of his background and approach to how he found and continues to refine his voice. The rest of the day was devoted to some exercises and ideas we could use to develop our own voices. I’m extracting from my notes here, and will link to Guitar Tips that have covered similar material where appropriate.
Close Your Eyes
I noticed during the pieces he started the workshop with that Adam basically never looks at his hands. When I asked about it, he suggested several ways to work on this: playing in the dark, closing your eyes, or if performing making eye contact with the audience. I need much work in this department.
Phrasing and Endings
Adam discussed the concept of Emotional Contour and how it can be used in composition and developing solos. We then did some rhythmic practice of developing four bar phrases that don’t end on the barline. I was one of the class guinea pigs for this exercise and it was HARD, as you have to count and play at the same time.
Another exercise we did was to practice “playing a poem” where you take a poem or other written material and “play it”. This was an exercise in both phrasing and interpretation. The fun part of this is that given the same selection no two players will ever produce identical results.
We did an exercise where the group contributed pairs of synonym/antonyms like “scalding/frigid” and then Adam or intrepid volunteers would try to play four bars of each. It can be used as a way to avoid pattern/lick cliches and also provides another approach to including emotional contour in your playing.
Adam talked about his approach to gear and how it can be used unobtrusively to enhance your style.
We learned how to harmonize scales using different combinations of intervals to obtain new sounds. I definitely plan to spend more time working on this.
Adam came prepared with an agenda, but was very happy to change directions in response to student questions. I asked a question about harmonizing chords “from the top down” which I had heard him say on a podcast and he expounded with an extensive conversation on chord melody playing. Highlights included: keeping melody notes on top and choosing complementary chord tones underneath, using the lowest 5 frets, and playing the melody in multiple positions. He also advocates practicing writing melodies without a guitar as another pattern-bypass device.
Adam discussed some useful books which contain good warmup material, Pumping Nylon and Fundamentals of Guitar. He also demonstrated some sequencing exercises that can be used both as warmups and as listening exercises “what did I just play?”. Money quote - “if it doesn’t slow you down, make it harder”.
The night after the seminar, Adam played a trio gig with local musicians Cody McKinney and JT Bates. It was a mix of instrumental and vocal tunes. We got to see the concepts we learned in action and it was truly inspiring.
What a fantastic day. The 5 hours went by in a flash and I’ve only mentioned a portion of what we covered. Adam has a way of conveying material in a way that multiple levels of musicians can all take something away. My classmates ranged from beginners to gigging pros and everyone I talked to left with something to work on.
If you ever get a chance to see Adam perform or teach, I highly recommend it. Thanks to Adam for coming out and to Alan at El Diablo for hosting an excellent workshop.
Here’s hoping we do another one next year.