Practicing Without an Instrument

It’s not always possible to have your instrument with you when you travel, so these are times that you’ll have to find creative ways to practice and keep your mind focused on music. Here are a few tips to help you make it through the dark times.

1. Get a good ear training system.

Statue of Fellow Scratching His Ear With a Stick
Nagasena, at Pahang Buddhist Association Temple, Kuantan

I invented my own, to help me identify notes after a C Major Triad is played. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, send an email to to get week one of my note naming system at no cost to you. There are also other kinds of ear training systems available, such as the ear training app functional ear trainer and others that basically do the same kinds of things: help you develop a great sense of relative pitch. Ear training is super important. It helps you translate what you hear into what you play, and all these courses are graduated systems for shortening the time between hearing something and being able to play it on your instrument.

2. Try transcribing (and in this case, I do actually mean listening to something and writing it down) with no instrument.

Even if you can’t tell exactly what key something is in, you can probably get pretty close in determining relative positions of notes. And even if you can’t do that all that well, you can definitely use this as an opportunity to concentrate on getting all the rhythmic notation exactly right.

3. Take a piece you’ve been working and “air guitar” the piece .

Play the piece and actually move your fingers and picking hand trying as much as possible to approximate actual guitar playing. You can also try using some kind of “surrogate guitar” (I’ve used my arm, a random cut off piece of 2 x 4, or you could try one of the two or three “guitar trainers” on the market), if you find fingering in the air too difficult.

4. Try a complete visualization.

Meditation Hand Position

As a kind of meditation, visualize yourself in as much detail as possible, using as many senses as possible, you playing through a particular tune you’ve been working on. Visualize the sound, obviously, but also how the instrument feels in your hands, how the strap feels across your shoulder, how the pick feels in between your thumb and forefinger. Then visualize playing through the whole tune flawlessly, effortlessly.

5. Write out a lead sheet for a tune you think you know.

If that’s too easy, write a lead sheet in a completely different key. If that’s too hard, you can at least try to write out a chord chart.

All of these things can be ways you can try to practice without having to be in close proximity to your instrument. These are just good things you can use to exercise your internal musical abilities anywhere: on the bus, on the train, in an airplane, or any time you find that you have free time and can devote a few minutes of attention to music. I mean, what else are you gonna do? Listen to a podcast? 😉

Bi-Triadic Hexatonic Scales

Take two triads, any two triads. Preferably, two triads that don’t have any notes in common. When you arrange them so that they form a scale, that scale is a Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale.  As an example, let’s take A Minor and G Major.

First, in Example 1, I write the triads out as chords. Then, in Example 2, I write the notes out as arpeggios. Next, in Example 3, I arrange them in a way that combines them to form a scale with 6 tones, a “hexatonic” scale.

Am G Bi Triadic Hexatonic Construction

I especially like this one, because it’s a minor scale with no sixth degree, which makes it ultra useful, since you can use it in place of natural minor or Dorian.

Let’s try an A minor triad with a G minor triad. When combined into a scale, it yields a minor pentatonic scale with the addition of the b2. See examples 3 – 6.

1 b2 b3 4 5 b7 (Pentatonic With b2)
Building a Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale with an Am triad and a Gm triad

So far, these have been fairly “normal” sounding: kind of diatonic or modal, not really that exotic or “outside” sounding. Let’s try one that starts to move in the “outside” direction. Examples 7-9 take the A Minor triad and combine it with the Eb Major triad.

1 b2 b3 #4 5 b7
How to Construct a Hexatonic scale from an Am and an Eb Triad

So far, we’ve just been building Minor Hexatonics, so let’s see what we get when we start with an A Major Triad.

In examples 10-12, we start by combining an A Major triad with a G# Minor triad. When it all shakes out, we get a pretty “inside” sounding ALMOST Lydian scale. In fact, it’s a Lydian scale without a 6th degree: 1 2 3 #4 5 7.

1 2 3 #4 5 7
Constructing a scale from an A triad and a G#m triad

We can also combine triads to get another kind of altered dominant sound. In this case, let’s look at Examples 13-16, which use the  A major and G minor triads.  It becomes a kind of “Phyrigian Dominant” or “Mixolydian b9” without the 6th degree, so: 1 b2 3 4 5 b7.

1 b2 3 4 5 b7
Constructing a Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale from A Major and G minor

The triads from which we build these hexatonic scales don’t have to be limited to major or minor, we can also use augmented, diminished and sus4 triads.

In examples 14 – 16, we combine A Major and the G Augmented Triads. This particular combination yields a “Not Quite Lydian Dominant” scale. Or a Lydian Dominant without the 6th degree: 1 2 3 #4 5 b7.

A Major and G Aug Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale
Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale From A Major and G Aug

Now that you’ve got the gist, you can try building your own. Some to try: A major combined with G# Diminshed, Am combined with Bb Sus4, A major with C minor.  Let me know through the comments what you come up with.

Have fun.



Practicing Reading

Lately, I have started to get up early in the morning,  and before doing anything else, I take out a classical music piece and read it down as a musical warm up for the ears, eyes and fingers. One per day. When I was going to school, my teacher, Bruce Bartlett, told me to get the Bach Violin Sonatas and Partitas Book, which I’m sure was recommended to him by Mike Stern or Charlie Banacos. For the last little while (a month maybe?) I have been choosing one of the less daunting selections from this book and reading it down. My focus is accuracy of reading, not really warp speed…that, and to get the SOUND of Bach’s LINES in my head.

When I get through all the Bach that isn’t completely impossible, I move on to either a violin technique book, like Hrimaly, or Wohlfahrt. I also use Hanon for this purpose, though I really need to give Hanon, and more to the point, HOW TO USE Hanon, its own post in the future.

There are also other Bach Sonatas, the ones for treble clef non-transposing instruments (flute, oboe) that could be useful for this kind of thing. So you may want to check out Bach’s Sonatas for Flute and Piano.

Just wake up, open the book, read one section down…no matter how long it takes, then move on to your normal practice. The next day, wake up, read the next section down. It’s a bit like meditation, and you’ll notice yourself getting stronger and faster and the strange open voicing and scalar sequences will start to become no big deal.

Good Luck.

If you need suggestions about which sections of the sonatas that work well on the guitar, and which absolutely do NOT, just use the  contact page to send a note along with your email, and I’ll send you a PDF

September Music Suggestions

Here are some things I’ve been listening to this month that you might enjoy:

Curtis McMurtry

Respectable Enemy - Curtis McMurtry
Curtis McMurty’s Respectable Enemy

I have long been a fan of both Curtis’s father (James McMurtry), and grandfather (Larry McMurtry), and I knew that Curtis had played trombone, of all things, on one of his father’s records, but I wasn’t really aware of him as a songwriter until James tweeted a link to his bandcamp page that had a free track. I was…not excited, shall I say? The free song turned out to be the first on the album, and I really wish the free track was one of the others, because there are some that are better than the free track. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me, and I bought the whole album. It is equal parts the record of a 23 year old, full of young failed love songs and alienation, and a much wiser man, about regret and redemption. Every so often, though, he’ll say something simple that belies a depth beyond either of those two extremes, and it is for these flashes of light through the murky water that I recommend this album.

Haley Dreis

Lady With A Rocket - Haley Dreis
Haley Dreis – Lady With A Rocket

I met Haley at a Pat Pattison seminar a few years ago. I liked her songs, so I signed up for her mailing list, and eventually bought “Lady With a Rocket” when it came out. I like the production of her records and the well crafted lyrics. She’s playful and betrayed and confused and resolved. Very good stuff.


Pavelle Album art
Pavelle Album art

Here’s an NYC band that has a lead singer that looks like Zack de la Rocha with bracelets! Seriously though, this is good harder indie rock. Julian Jacobson is the rhythm guitar player. I used to jam with him when I would come back to Breckenridge from Berklee for the summer. Take a listen to Pavelle. They are good at rocking.

Syd Arthur

Sound Mirror - Syd Arthur
Syd Arthur -Sound Mirror

I spend some time in the YouTube Vinyl Community, and there has been a lot of buzz as of late about his band. They are progressive and use nice odd time signatures and their lyrics are not terrible, as can be the case with lots of progressive rock bands. Their latest record, “Sound Mirror,” is great and worth getting.




Let me know what you think of the September Music suggestions. If you like ’em, sign up for the mailing list!


Old No 1

I’ve been keeping my eye out for this one for a long time, but it has become increasingly more difficult to see this one in the wild. I searched for it on eBay, found a few people selling the 4 Men with Beards reissue on 180 gram vinyl, and immediately put it in my watch list. After a few months of looking at my watch list, and just seeing it sit there and DARE me to buy it, I finally did.

The BEST country record ever made
Guy Clark Old No. 1 Reissue – Still in the shrink wrap

It’s difficult to covey how much this record means to me. Very few artists I can think of can convey a very clear sense of place in their songwriting and/or recording, but this record SOUNDS like Texas (although it was recorded in Nashville). I can picture the kind of light grey asphalt on Highway 287 with the black squiggles of tar on the cracks in the road, with the telephone poles hugging next to the railroad tracks disappearing toward the horizon. This is Guy writing at the apex of his powers, and every single song is a masterpiece.

Not only is the songwriting masterful, the feel the session players bring to the record is spectacular. Steve Gibson on Guitar, Larry Londin on Drums, Mike Leech on Bass, Hal Rugg on Pedal Steel. Interestingly, Dick Feller, the guy that wrote “Some Days Are Diamonds” for John Denver and “Eastbound And Down” for Jerry Reed, plays guitar on this album too.

That being said, two songs in particular stand out to me. One is “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” on Side A, a song about “Five minutes in a woman’s life,” as Guy likes to say in his live shows. The other standout is “Instant Coffee Blues” on Side B, a song about a one night stand with some amazing and haunting steel guitar by Mr. Rugg.

This reissue is actually better than the original in one key respect: it’s on 180 gram vinyl. I could feel the substance and stability as removed it from the sleeve the first time. The original was on a flimsy RCA pressing  that you could make thunder sounds with if you shook it as you held it between your palms.

This record and Guy’s second record, “Texas Cookin'” are forever in the kick ass songwriting pantheon. Listen to them, and you will see why both albums, in their entirety, made it into Papa B’s Guy Clark mixtape.

August Music Suggestions

Corner Clock
Photo by Antoine Imbert

Lately, I’ve been having a good time seeing what old Berklee friends have been up to. It’s been inspiring and interesting. based on this week’s listening, I’d like to offer these suggestions:

Jim Bianco

One of my college roommates, who introduced me to early Tom Waits, including Nighthawks at the Diner, Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, Led Zepplin’s Presence, and Neil Young’s Unplugged, not to mention a healthy dose of the band Morphine. We would listen to these things as we fell asleep in the dorm on the 7th floor of the Mass Ave. building, because Jim had the biggest stereo in the room.

 Susan Cattaneo

My classmate in Pat Pattison’s Lyric Writing classes, we used to go to Starbucks and Object Write in between sips of mocha. She teaches at Berklee now and her new album has all the players I would use were I still in Boston, including my old guitar teacher, Kevin Barry.

 Brandon Schott

When we were in school, I played guitar on a few gigs with Brandon, and he played a tune in my Senior Recital. I also remember helping him move his piano. During the moving of that piano, he showed me the FIRST EVER DVD I HAD EVER SEEN. It was Austin Powers.


So at that SAME Senior Recital in which Brandon played,  Eric F. Holden was the bass player. Eric has been doing some amazing things, and the latest amazing thing is the band Willodean. Eric produced it and plays upright bass. Good stuff.

Those are some August suggestions. Try them, you might like them.






Goals and Sub-Goals

Mountain Peak, Representing the goal
Large Goals Can Seem Daunting, Like getting to the top of a huge mountain.

Sometimes I set goals for myself that seem insurmountable at first blush, but I’ve found that the best strategy is to chip my huge goals down into more easily attainable Sub-goals. After two weeks, I have read many books, blogs and articles, and I have a list of goals that looks something like this:

  • Release Smoke and Mirrors CD
  • Build better website landing page
  • Build better Facebook fan page
  • Post to Facebook fan page at least once a day, preferably toward the evening.
  • Post to Twitter more than once a day, maybe three times.
  • Order Business Cards
  • Play at open mic nights around town.
  • When playing open mics around town, pass out the business card, ask that people take pictures, and ask that they get on the mailing list.

Naturally, these goals have several sub-goals that need to be completed in order for them to be considered complete. When I completed my list of these long-term, over-arching goals, I found them to be a bit overwhelming, so I created a list of sub-goals for each goal that listed each little thing I would need to do in order to complete the huge master goal. For example, that first goal, “Release Smoke and Mirrors CD” has several mini goals that need to be accomplished in order for the CD to be released. This is what they look like in a bulleted list:

Release Smoke and Mirrors CD

  • Choose 10 or eleven tracks to include on the album
  • Mix those 10 or 11 tracks
  • master those 10 or 11 tracks and render them to 16bit/44.1k
  • Decide which packaging to go with. Jewel cases? Digipacks? Sleeves?
  • Request price quotes from several online CD manufacturing companies, in my case, for a quantity of 100.
  • Make sure the price includes a UPC code and shrink wrap.
  • Download Templates from CD manufacturing website.
  • Decide on cover art, font and layout
  • order CDs.
  • Get Square ( to process credit card orders when no one has cash

Now I have a fairly clear road map that is much easier to insert into a daily “to do” list. I can use the momentum of accomplishing these smaller goals to drive the inspiration engine that will help me to get through the rest of the sub-goals, and therefore, complete the Master Goal itself.

Let me know what you think! Email me at:

First Steps

I’m on the first tread.

Over the last few days, I’ve been voraciously consuming articles, books, and podcasts related to web marketing in general, and music marketing specifically. Here are links to some things, and my thoughts, just to give you an idea about where I’m coming from. On the advice of several podcasts, including the soloprenuer hour, I picked up “Crush it! Why Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion” by Gary Vaynerchuk. In “Crush it!” Gary Vee explains a strategy for transforming the thing you are the most passionate about into a business that can be monetized using social media tools. The three pages in Appendix A alone make this book worth picking up. When you start investigating the world of internet marketing, you don’t have to look for long before people start telling you to “work your email list” until it contains AT LEAST 1000 subscribers. …1000? …Really?! I know. I’m not a huge fan either. I only enter my email if I’m REALLY REALLY REALLY into somebody. I think the emails I get right now are from Darrell Scott, Rachael Yamagata, Haley Dreis...and even when they come to my email box, I am weary that I am being SOLD something. I guess I am the stereotypical “passive” fan, and all the web marketing gurus (guri?) tell you that you need SUPER FANS. How do you get these Superfans, you ask? Well, by engaging, and being interesting, and CARING about your fans and what they are about. Do this long enough, and sooner or later, you will find people being attracted to you and your message and what you have to sell. All the web marketing gurus tell you to create a CALL TO ACTION or CTA, that compels your would-be superfan to give up the valuable email address. Usually, this comes in the form of some contest or giveaway in which they provide their email address in return for a chance to win something, or get something for free. …so that’s where I am right now, trying to figure out a decent enough CTA to get my followers or facebook likers to give me their email address gold…(and I don’t have anywhere near 1000 yet, even combining those two groups). I think it’s going to have to be better than a few free songs…it seems like that is a sort of weak lure. It would have to be something tangible and shippable. I’ll think about it. In the mean time, let me know if you have any suggestions about something I could give away here to WORK THE LIST by emailing me:

Zero Day

Mountain Road
A lot of climbing ahead

I’m about to go on an adventure. I’m getting all the things I’m going to need in order, gathering the tools and supplies and support system to go delving deep…deep into the world of trying to make a living as a musician.

It seems like I’ve always known that this was what I had to do, from the time I was 4 or so and being rocked to sleep by my dad on his antique spring rocking chair, being taken away by Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, The Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, John Prine, Dylan…all the singer songwriter greats of the 60’s and 70’s.

The desire to be a musician continued and was even amplified when I first heard Van Halen and spent hours listening to 1984 doing jump kicks. It continued through middle school when I focused on guitar playing, listening to Metallica, Slayer, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. Into high school when I got into fusion: Scott Henderson, John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola.

I wanted to be a musician so much that I went to music school. I attended Berklee College of Music and got into Jazz, but I found out about half way through school that I really would rather be a songwriter than a shredder. I took classes with the amazing Pat Pattison and Jimmy Kachulis, and found that I wanted to JUST WRITE more…and after graduation, I moved to Nashville.

The thing about Nashville is that it’s a hustler’s town, as I’m sure LA is, and I would work as a front desk person at a hotel, or in retail or whatever, and write during my off time, or go see songwriters I admired when they played around town, but I got discouraged pretty early. No one was writing what I wanted to hear anymore. Due to some poor relationship choices, I found keeping my head somewhere near the surface of the financial water hard to do while trying to be true to my musical core.

So I did something that no one should ever do: I stopped trying. I stopped wanting to be a musician at all. I stopped seeing that music had any value whatsoever.

I had drifted into a career in luthiery, and I seemed to be average at it. I was good enough to make a decent wage, but it was far from my passion. I had drifted into comfort and ease and so far, it had given me a roof over my head and food, but I had never received anything like contentment or satisfaction from it, to the extent that it is possible to find.

Which brings me to now…

To date, I have recorded somewhere around thirty songs, I have about 30 songs started and half finished, and I’m writing more all the time. Of those complete thirty-ish, I’ve chosen 11 songs to put out as my first downloadable album, and I’m going to be shooting for an early fall release date.

This means I’m going to have to learn a huge amount about social media and internet marketing in a very short amount of time.

In the coming weeks, I will outline all the things I’m reading and doing in order to try and get this thing off the ground. I’ll tell you what seems to have worked, what seems not to have worked, and I’ll report my findings here.

Stay tuned, it’ll be interesting…and FUN!

If you have any suggestions for books to read, videos to watch, or classes to take, please let me know by emailing me at



The Humane Society Thrift Store has become a huge problem for me recently. Last time I went in there, it was like they had a direct link to my taste banks, or at the very least, to music I was exposed to when I was very young.

Every record I flipped through was one I had to take home. Amazing Rhythm Aces, Willie Nelson, Gordon Lightfoot, Leo Kottke…each record was either a songwriter I admired or a guitarist I admired. This week’s record was in the middle of all this greatness.

I had been thinking about this particular album for a few weeks, and I wanted to get it for a particular song that is on it that is entirely too funky and cool to be on a John Denver record. That song is called “She Won’t Let Me Fly Away,” and was written by Bill Danoff, who also wrote “Afternoon Delight,” of all things.

John Denver Aerie Album cover
John Denver: Falconer

I remember this record because it has a really weird rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” a version of John Prine’s “Spanish Pipedream,” a version of Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” (which is kind of terrible, because he deigns to mess with Goodman’s perfection by adding a completely unneeded bridge, therefore, adding himself as a co-writer on it), and a pretty good version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Casey’s Last Ride.”

Not much, if any of this record made it onto Papa B’s John Denver Mixtape, maybe only “Spanish Pipedream” (referred to on this record as “Blow Up Your TV (Spanish Pipe Dream)” and I think “The Eagle and the Hawk.” There’s also a song called “Tools” that I loved when I was about 4, about a baby rabbit. I can’t remember whether or not it made the mixtape, but I do remember requesting it whenever I heard a live musician playing John Denver songs.

So, I implore you, find Aerie and listen to the cool funkiness of “She Won’t Let Me Fly Away,” and swim in it.

Smoke And Mirrors – Now Available!